A Guide to Adjusting to Life With Hearing Aids
Transitioning into wearing hearing aids can be difficult. The writer knows this firsthand and wants to share her hard-earned tips for successfully navigating this new chapter of your life.
Adjusting to hearing aids takes time and patience. How do I know this? I have been wearing hearing aids since I was a four-year-old. In the nearly 30 years since, I have continuously had to adapt to new hearing aids. From technology changes to the styles of hearing aids, the adjustment period is ongoing.
For Kathy Savage, 62, an Oviedo, Fla.-based teacher, the expectations were high when she decided to start using hearing aids. "I thought all my problems with hearing and understanding would be fixed," she says. However her experience differed from these expectations, as you'll learn more about below.
Knowing what to expect and how to manage this lifestyle change is vital. With time and perseverance, the following tips can help to better prepare you for a successful transition into life with hearing aids.
Pick a Good Audiologist
This may seem like an obvious point, or maybe you already have an audiologist, but having a doctor who listens to your unique challenges and concerns makes all the difference. While age-related hearing loss may look clinically similar for most, the situations and lifestyles of each person vary greatly and should be treated with the individual attention they deserve.
After all, the needs of a teacher like Savage will differ from the needs of a retired fisherman. Having an audiologist who understands this and works with you to customize your hearing aids will set you up for success. An audiologist will also help you determine the type of hearing aid that best suits your needs.
Prepare for an Adjustment Period
You've just put on your new hearing aids. Now what?
The first thing you will likely notice is that everything is loud — very loud — and somehow different than what you expected.
Dr. Melissa Riess, an audiologist in Orlando, Fla., says the adjustment time for new hearing aids is typically two to six weeks. "The time is very dependent on the degree of hearing loss and length of time that person has had hearing loss without hearing aids or treatment," she says.
"Knowledge is power and understanding the benefits and limitations of the aids is important in the process."
Despite having worn hearing aids all my life, every time I get a new pair, I go through an adjustment period.
My advice? Do not start wearing the hearing aids right away.
What is often recommended by audiologists, and what has worked for me, is to start fresh the following morning. Put them on first thing and wear them until you go to bed at night.
Riess agrees with this strategy and tells her patients they can start with six hours the first day and increase the hours daily. The goal is to reach a full day within the first week. "Longer time periods tend to be better than one hour on, one hour off," she says.
Utilize the Settings
It wasn't all that long ago when analog hearing aids (technology that amplifies all sound) were the only option. This is similar to turning up the volume of a TV rather than being able to turn up only the voices of people. In fact, for roughly the first ten years of my hearing aid journey, analog was all I used.
A lot has changed and it's a brand new world, one filled with all kinds of digital options and settings that can adjust to very specific environments.
Speak up for yourself. It has taken me a lifetime to embrace this mindset.
While it's true that many hearing aids will automatically adjust sound for you, it is both possible and necessary for you to take control yourself from time to time.
Settings differ depending on the types of hearing aids. However, some of the more popular modes will allow you to reduce background noise (say at a restaurant or group gathering), enhance music and use the phone (some hearing aids even use Bluetooth).
Talk to your audiologist about any difficulties you may be experiencing with the sound through the hearing aid itself; there may be a way to amend the issue just by altering settings.
Advocate for Yourself
I can't say this enough: Speak up for yourself. It has taken me a lifetime to embrace this mindset and yet, I still struggle with it from time to time. But if I don't, I will miss out on important moments.
Whether at home with family, out with friends or with strangers, if you cannot hear what is being said, then you can't be part of the conversation. Feeling excluded from conversations is an extremely isolating part of hearing loss. If people are talking to you, then they want to include you. Help them communicate with you by telling them what works for you.
Advocating for yourself is especially important when it comes to working with your audiologist. Tell them what works and what doesn't and what you are struggling with while using hearing aids.
They can't fix the issue without knowing what it is.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Be aware of what works for you and your hearing. If you hear better on your right side, then be sure to position yourself so people you're talking to are on your right.
Try these other tips:
- Pick your seat in the car based on what side people talking will be on. I offer to drive because I hear better on my right side.
- Sit with the TV speakers on your better hearing side.
- Use subtitles on your TV.
- Ask your friends to change their TV settings while you are there.
- If background noise is an issue, move to a quieter place to talk.
For Savage's job as a teacher, she needs to make sure that all the kids in the classroom are quiet when one student is speaking or asking a question.
For my fellow lip readers, position yourself to see the person talking. Make sure you have good lighting to see their face. Sit or stand at eye level with each other. When masks are an issue, ask people to face you and speak as clearly as possible. Clear masks are available, but are still cost-prohibitive for some.
Give It Time
During the adjustment period and throughout, a common complaint with hearing aids is that you hear much more than you expect. As Savage noted, "It's not just the voice you want to hear that is amplified, it's all sounds."
Dr. Jenna Vallario, professor of audiology at African Bible College in Malawi, says many hearing aid patients say they can hear the sounds of air conditioners and refrigerators running.
"I remind my patients that normal hearing listeners can also hear these 'unwanted' sounds, but our brain has learned to tune it out and, with time, their brain will also learn to tune it out," says Vallario.
Ultimately, wearing hearing aids is a major life adjustment. Be patient with yourself as you navigate your surroundings with your new hearing aids.
As Riess says, "Knowledge is power and understanding the benefits and limitations of the aids is important in the process."