Hearing Aids and the Learning Curve
By: Sydnie Freeman, Au.D.
During a clinical rotation in graduate school, one of my favorite supervisors would always tell her patients, “With hearing aids, habituation is the name of the game!” Now, I often use that phrase when counseling my own patients about hearing aids. What does that phrase mean, exactly? It means for people with hearing loss, the brain must “re-learn” how to use the signals that it has been missing out on.
When people are first fit with hearing aids they often report that while they are hearing better it still doesn’t sound the same as it did when their hearing was normal. This is a common reaction to amplification. Initially, certain sounds such as running water from the faucet, car blinkers, and the microwave beeping can be bothersome to first- time hearing aid users. This, believe it or not, is completely normal! Most people experience “gradual” hearing loss, meaning their hearing loss occurs over years, or even decades. Since hearing loss is often gradual, the hearing aids must be programmed the same way, starting out at a slightly lower gain, or volume, than what the person needs, and over the course of a few weeks to a month (or more), the hearing aids are adjusted in the office to eventually meet the person‘s target goal. Consider this: Someone who never wears a watch decides he wants to start wearing one. At first, that watch is noticeable, sometimes even bothersome, because he isn’t accustomed to feeling it on his wrist. He might wear it an hour the first day, then take it off. The second day he might wear it 4 hours, then take it off. Eventually though, his brain learns that the watch is now the norm and he is no longer bothered by the watch, and actually misses it when he forgets to put it on. The same is true for hearing aids. At first, signals might be too loud, slightly annoying or distracting, but over time with consistent usage, the brain learns that those signals are normal, and grows accustomed to hearing them. This is important because the brain needs that input from ancillary signals in order to maintain its ability to decode speech signals properly.
It is important to realize that hearing aids might take time to grow accustomed to, but eventually they become a vital part of your overall health and well-being. If you or a loved one feel as though you are having difficulty hearing, with or without hearing aids, please schedule an appointment for a consultation with one of our audiologists today. We would be happy to help you achieve better hearing.