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Hearing Aid Fitting Day: Ups, Downs and Why It’s Worth It!

My Hearing Aid Fitting Day

Getting fitted for new hearing aids should be an exciting thing, and it is, but like some Facebook relationship statuses, “it’s complicated.”

For me, hearing aids have never been “right” when they are fresh from the box. My hearing aid fitting day is about getting fitted, not being perfect, and I’m happy that I know this. New hearing aids can be overwhelming, especially if something gets lost in translation.

You know how you try on shoes in a shoe store but it’s never the same as experiencing them in the real world, and what seemed great in the shop can be wrong in reality? It can be like that with hearing aids. The good news is, that even when they feel “wrong,” they can be made right, as hearing aids are adjustable and re-programmable… unlike shoes.

The important thing to know when you’re updating your hearing aids, is that there should be follow-up sessions booked with your audiologist from the get-go. This is when you will fine-tune the hearing experience based on your initial observations out in the world.

And so it began

I flew home to Vancouver, Canada, from Mexico to get my hearing aids. Before I even saw my audiologist I already had three follow-up appointments booked. I was getting some of Canada’s first Phonak Naída V90-SPs, and getting me fitted would be a learning curve, not just for me, but for my audiologist too! It was the first pair he handled, and we both gained a lot of knowledge during the experience.

I’ve already written about the decline of my 7-year-old hearing aids, so I was super-chuffed about getting these new aids, and I had my fingers crossed that I’d adapt well from the start. I was hip to the experience of fittings. 

But this fitting was different. 

Why?

Normally, people don’t have a time-crunch like yours truly (the wayward Canadian traveler who already had return tickets booked to Mexico.) Others tend to have less pressure with the learning curve after their initial fitting. Also, you might not normally have anything to learn beyond how to work your hearing aid. I had a couple new hearing aid accessories that I had to learn about as well, so it made my fitting-day appointment nearly three hours long. That’s a whole lotta knowledge to absorb.

The Naída hearing aids come with a number of “automatic” modes – thanks to the Phonak technology, “AutoSense OS“. From directional to situational sound, the smart technology means the hearing aids adjust to what they hear, and the sound quality can shift automatically to accommodate the scenarios around you as you move through life. Between that and all the bells and whistles on them, I was nearly overloaded with information!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me walk you through my whole appointment.

Fresh out of the box

First I told my audiologist, Henry, that my new hearing aid molds were hurting my ears. This happens for all kinds of reasons. My big tip? Make sure you’re very well-hydrated on impression day, so your ears are the “right shape,” making for a hearing aid mold with a better fit. I was likely dehydrated when I had my first impressions done, and the result was a too-tight fit, which was hurt-y.

So, we quickly did impressions of my molds in order to get the impressions out the door with the 2 p.m. courier pickup, and then I’d have them back in time for my next follow-up appointment.

Impressions done, it was time to see the pretty new things.

Henry finally revealed the new Naídas. Even he hadn’t seen them before they arrived for me that previous week. Smaller than my old ones! Thinner too.

I immediately noticed the battery door was stiff to open. I had to pry it open compared to the old ones, but Henry explained that the narrower body and the water-resistance meant the battery door had to close snugly, so it took oomph to open them, and some finagling to wrest out the battery to replace. I could see that being tricky for elderly folks with less nimble fingers. I have gotten the hang of it since then and learned that having dry skin makes it tricky to get a grip on the battery for removal, so it’s actually a lot easier to remove down here in the humid heat of Mexico. One of those weird factoids. 

The thinner profile meant much more comfort when worn with my glasses, an exciting development. I used to have these brighter red, transparent cases, and was a little disappointed I couldn’t be so bold in my case color. Burgundy, not candy red. Alas! But then Henry told me the non-transparent case was noted to be much, much stronger. In fact, he said a customer of his had run over (with his car!) his hearing aid from the previous Naída line. Realizing what had happened, in his horror, he got out, picked it up, turned it on, and it still worked!

So, if a thinner profile but far-stronger case means a more conservative color, then I’m down with that! No problemo.

And that was the outside of the hearing aid. It was time to move on. It’s like test-driving your new car. First you look at the outside, then you check out under the hood, and then you get behind the wheel… except for hearing aids, it means putting them on and getting them set up.

Cue the sound!

Henry hung a Bluetooth-gadget necklace around my neck to configure the hearing aids. For all my previous fittings, the hearing aid had to be plugged into the computer to configure, but we live in the future and it’s Bluetooth, baby!

This part is like alternate reality, like trying shoes in a shoe store, because the environment of an audiology office is nothing remotely close to real life, sound-wise. It’s often sound-dampened and compartmentalized, so I find it hard to get a sense of what, and how, I’m hearing. But this is why we have follow-ups.

Once dialed into the Bluetooth thingamajobby, it was time to do some testing of the aids. For this, I had to sit in front of a device that plays sound in stereo from two speakers and my hearing aids would then compute the efficacy of what they heard. This essentially meant I listened to an overwrought, badly written sentence about CARROTS repeated about 20 times by a woman whose voice showed she had no fondness for carrots. Exciting stuff, I know, but the repetition serves a purpose as it makes the adjustments consistent through frequencies.

All I had to do was listen. The audiologist and my new hearing aids did all the work.

After, Henry asked my opinion on different sounds, like crumpling paper, thumping the desk, and other dramatizations of things we hear every day.

This part was overwhelming though, because how often in life do you think about the sound quality of a desk-thump or paper being crumpled? Not often, right? It’s like being asked to comment about air. Can you breathe it and live? Okay, then good. Unless it’s woefully bad air, you probably are indifferent about it, right? So too with sound qualities.

So I was a bit non-committal about it because I knew the proof would be in the real world.

Ooh, accessories, you say?!

After we agreed to my hearing aid setting, we moved on to the other stuff. I learned how to work the Bluetooth receiver called a Phonak ComPilot. It’s awesome that this technology exists, but I look forward to the day when hearing aids have self-contained Bluetooth receivers that don’t need an external gadget. I suspect that’ll be in a few years, given the leaps and bounds in technology in the last decade. After all, 10 years ago I couldn’t have ever imagined a thing like the ComPilot could send my iPhone calls or music playlists straight into my hearing aids, rendering the need for headphones completely obsolete, so at least we have this option. It’s awesome.

I also learned about the Phonak Roger Pen. I recently used the Roger Pen during a city tour where to pick up my quiet-spoken tour guide and other sounds and it made my day richer!

 

This is a cool gadget I received from @Phonak to help my travels. It’s called the Roger Pen. Looks like a chunky pen but it’s actually a Bluetooth-powered directional microphone. I was skeptical because a lot of its uses have to do with being with other people and I travel alone a LOT of the time. Today I took a tour though. The first part of the tour I had a great guide who I heard well with my new #Naida hearing aids, but part two meant I got a new guide who was not very loud and I found frustrating to listen to while the van roared and air conditioner hissed. I remembered that I packed my Roger Pen! It needs a receiving device, the CommPilot, which a little thingie plugs into, and this sends whatever the Pen picks up straight into my hearing aids. It was super. Yeah, it made the car and stuff louder but when I pointed at the driver, his voice got much louder and more clear. Later, as we toured a 1,000-year-old ruins, I asked him to wear the pen. It was so helpful there as I would sometimes fall 20-25 feet behind while taking photos but the Roger Pen made it like he stood right beside me. Still later, I skipped part of the tour because I’d have to pay to see something I saw last week, so I stood around outside the fence and it was really nice. I was under the world’s thickest tree, birdie heaven, and the pen was amplifying all the birdsong. A few minutes later, a band was practicing about 600 feet away and I could make their practice out clearly. I think it made my day a lot richer and I’m sure glad I packed it along. It won’t improve every situation — like when I tried to use it on a patio with a trickling water fountain with friends — but it’s sure going to improve car rides (people in the backseat were audible! That’s new!) and tours and events. It’s not cheap but it has a cheaper, somewhat less dynamic version that could certainly be beneficial too. It’s aimed at students, people who go to events, etc. You just have to be bold and say “Hey, I have this contraption that will send your voice via Bluetooth to my hearing aids… Do you mind wearing it so I don’t miss a thing?”

A photo posted by Steffani Cameron (@snarkysteff) on

 

Finally, I got a critical item for my travels, the D-Dry unit, which uses heat and blue light to evaporate all the moisture in my hearing aids during these humid, hot Mexican days. These Naídas may be water-resistant, but the deluge of sweat and humidity is constant here, and to protect my hearing aids I try to dry them on the most insufferable of days, like last night when it “felt like” 85 degrees still at 1 a.m. and had no air conditioning. I was a cascading pool of sweat for over 14 hours yesterday, which is a lot to ask of any hearing aids.

So I learned about all these things on fitting day, and it was a heckuva learning curve, folks!

 

Pretty excited about this gadget. When I was in Vancouver, I got one of these @phonak D-Dry units. It plugs in and uses UVC light to dry ’em. I’ve had a lot of trouble in humid climates with my hearing aids, despite living life in that rainforest called Vancouver. Something about Portugal and Mexico’s heat and humidity has been a different beast for the hearing aids. This will let me stick ’em in the dryer most days after hot, sweaty days. The reason HOT humidity is brutal is because my head sweats ferociously and my hair gets damp and the sweat gets into the hearing aids. Over time, and it doesn’t take long, it dampens the sound quality and can even damage the hearing aid. So, here’s hoping that is something I’ll be avoiding as hurricane season officially kicks off in Mexico this week, bringing blistering days and tropical storm nights. #hearinglikeme #hearingaids #hearing #phonak #nomad #travel

A photo posted by Steffani Cameron (@snarkysteff) on

 

And then we made it BETTER!

During the following two weeks, I saw Henry four more times. We changed factory presets, along with settings dictated by some obsolete methods used in Henry’s office. We tweaked the manual settings so I could toggle through in an order that worked for my travel life. We also disconnected the two hearing aids, because I wasn’t crazy about them adjusting together. Maybe someone coming to hearing aids the first time might like the duo-connection, but, for instance, if I took a phone call and put my hearing aid into telephone mode, both hearing aids would go into that mode. I didn’t like how I could only use the phone on one ear. But that’s why it’s adjustable! Try it, and if it’s not how you like it, it can be customized.

We also tweaked the ComPilot settings and talked about hearing aid travel hacks I could resort to in desperation, such as using the fine side of a nail file to shape my hearing aid mold if I found it wasn’t fitting perfectly.

What was a stressful and overwhelming fitting day improved dramatically over the next two weeks of follow-ups and personalizing of my new Naídas.

You have to understand that there’s no right or wrong with your hearing aids, it’s about what works for you. This means you need to take notes about what sounds are bothering you, how things aren’t working, what sounds great, and what doesn’t. Talk to your audiologist and ask questions and suggest fixes. You’re a part of this equation and it’s critical that you don’t feel like “what you get is what you get.” Hearing aids are designed to be custom-profile products, but if you don’t follow through on changes, you won’t be hearing the world in a way that works for you.

I had some grief and trying times in those two weeks, but I’ve been really enjoying a better-sounding world since I left Canada and returned to Mexico. I hear more than ever, and isn’t that what the goal is?!

Steffani Cameron on FacebookSteffani Cameron on Twitter
Steffani Cameron
Steffani Cameron is a writer and photographer from Vancouver, Canada, who's gone "Full Nomad" and sold everything she owned to travel the world for five years. She's working as a digital nomad wherever there's a reasonably decent internet connection. She's worn hearing aids since she was two, and currently wears Phonak Naída V90-SPs.

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