Lots of people, including myself, have complained at some point in our lives that the sound from hearing aids does not seem natural. Many people do not get hearing technology as soon as they have a hearing loss. They tend to wait up to seven years before they invest in this piece of technology. The cost of hearing aids combined with still “kind of being able to hear” is a huge factor in why it doesn’t seem immediately necessary. There is also a stigma attached to hearing loss and old age. When it comes to sound quality, I believe that if you adjust to hearing aids sooner than later it is easier than waiting many years.
When I was so focused on having or trying to hear, it was hard to relax and let the information I was hearing sync with me. Even with a mild hearing loss, a person is not getting the full sound spectrum in any setting. Instead, I was straining my head, which caused a tightness just to understand the words. The brain becomes used to hearing things more muffled and has to work harder at interpreting the sounds. It is easy to become used to this diminished level of hearing without realizing it. When you’re focused on comprehending the words, it’s also harder to comprehend the entire message.
A person with the same exact hearing loss could have different reactions to the way that sound is interpreted through a hearing aid. For someone that is born with a hearing loss but doesn’t wear hearing aids for most of their life and then suddenly tries to, they may hear sounds that they never once heard in their life. If someone has never heard a sound before, it can be overwhelming to try to process what is happening in their surroundings. This makes it more challenging to freely engage in conversation. Someone who is fitted with hearing aids as soon as a loss is noticed may not struggle to interpret sounds as much, nor will they seem as intense.
I have been hard of hearing my entire life (I am 33 years old), but only wore hearing aids for about for a small fraction of the time because I struggled with adjusting.
When I finally did start trying to adjust to hearing aids the last couple of years, several noises sounded very intense to me. Traffic was the hardest sound for me to adjust to, as well as the wind. I felt as if traffic were a war zone. When I heard the wind in my own apartment, I thought we were about to be hit by a tornado. I had to keep looking outside to realize nothing dramatic was happening. It’s not that the wind was doing anything unusual. It was just that I had never heard the wind.
Of course, there were other sounds new to me, like the refrigerator and the clock hand moving. I had no idea they even made sounds. I enjoyed hearing the birds; but when you can hear it from inside a classroom, along with pen tapping, when you are trying to focus on the teacher, it can become distracting.
Besides outside sounds being overwhelming, I also felt like my voice was amplified as if I were talking into a microphone. This changed my personality completely. I went from being outspoken to being completely shy and bashful.
It’s important that you have an audiologist that will explain things to you in detail. For most of my life, my audiologists did not stress the importance of taking the time to adjust. I honestly had no idea this should have happened early on in life. My first time in college, I thought I had a brain processing issue because my ears would not adjust.
Maybe it was my lack of excitement for having to wear the hearing aids, but going into the audiologist for most of my life seemed like a burden rather than a good thing. It wasn’t until visiting my most recent audiologist that I have felt that I was able to get a clear understanding of how the adjusting process works. I have been very happy with my most recent audiologist as she has gone above and beyond to make sure I am happy.
“It wasn’t until visiting my most recent audiologist that I have felt that I was able to get a clear understanding of how the adjusting process works.”
Also, I came to understand that I had been wearing the wrong kind of hearing aids for my loss for a good amount of time. I found out the hearing aids that I had before are more synthetic sounding as they plugged up my ear. Part of this was my fault because I wanted small in-the-canal hearing aids, but I wasn’t aware of how this wasn’t the best choice either.
I learned that audiologists have the ability to customize the sounds based on a person’s experience. There are different settings to focus on the voice in front for example, or maybe you want certain sounds to be blocked out more. Audiologists can vary those responses. They can make some settings louder and some softer based on your preferences. This makes it easier to adapt to the hearing aids faster as the sound can become more natural based on what you are used to.
A good audiologist will spend quality time with you to make sure you are satisfied with the way everything sounds. This may require multiple follow up appointments to make adjustments after being out in the world and realizing something needs to be tuned.
The more my ears have been adjusting to the hearing aids, the more I wondered why it was so hard to begin with. The sound difference doesn’t even seem as significant with them in or out now. Why was the sound so dramatic then? Was it because I had never really heard these sounds before? Is my brain adapting? A year ago, traffic sounded like a war zone, and today, it’s just a little louder than without the hearing aids. Amazing what a difference it has made.
Since I’ve been wearing my hearing aids more, my stress levels and anxiety have gone down in group situations. I am able to participate in meetings and classrooms and feel more involved for the first time in my life. It isn’t perfect, but significantly better than it was in the past as I have been making more effort to adjust than I previously had.
Find a good audiologist that is willing to spend time explaining things to you. Sometimes this means making appointments at multiple places: i.e., “shop around” for the right fit.
Instead of seeing hearing aids as a burden, view them as a tool. Hearing aids are there as a tool to help you.
Start out by wearing hearing aids in quiet settings at home. Settings with less background noise tend to be the least overwhelming. I started adjusting to my hearing aids in my own house, watching videos and listening to videos through my computer. I took an online interpreting class where I had to repeat what was being said and this helped me be more comfortable using my voice.
Try to build up your comfort level by wearing them often so you become used to them.
Noise fatigue is a real thing. It can be overwhelming. It’s okay to take breaks.
Learning American Sign Language (ASL) is helpful so that when you have noise fatigue, you have another language to communicate in. Some people utilize hearing aids and an ASL interpreter at the same time, to pick up as much information from both inputs to get a clearer message.
Let your audiologist know what you are experiencing as you are adjusting to your hearing aids. Keeping a journal can help keep track of this.
Support groups like Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) can help if you want to find other people working through challenges associated with hearing aids. It helps to be around others who also have a hearing loss. There are online communities such as Hearing Like Me and support groups through Facebook, such as “deaf and hard of hearing” and “hard of hearing support group.”