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How to help a loved one get accustomed to new hearing aids

When your loved one gets hearing aids, it will take much time and patience for him or her to get used to them. This is because not only is it a change to have something in or attached to your ears, but also, hearing aids do not restore your hearing. Instead, they amplify sounds, but it takes a lot of work on the wearer's part to adapt, adjust and hear well with the devices. Heres what it's like adjusting to a new hearing aid:

Adjusting to a new hearing aid

The key to adjusting to a new hearing aid is starting slowly. This is because, if you haven't heard well in a few years, hearing aids flood your ears with sounds you didn't notice before, and it can be a bit of sound overload. For example, the humming of the refrigerator - a background noise that most people seldom notice - might seem very loud or unbearable. This is because the brain has forgotten how to sort out background noise and to prioritize certain sounds over others. People adjusting to a new hearing aid have to relearn how to ignore background noise, and it's important for them to be patient and take it slow as their brains adjust.

showing comfortStarting slowly

Because sound can at first be overwhelming, audiologists recommend new hearing aid users wear the devices for only an hour at a time, taking several breaks throughout the day. It's also a good idea to start in a relatively quiet environment. For example, watch TV or visit with a family member with your new hearing aids, rather than immediately heading to a movie theater or social gathering, which can easily overwhelm you. After a few weeks, chirping birds and raindrops on the roof will be pleasant, rather than startling, and your loved one will be able to wear his or her hearing aids for much longer stretches.

After two to four weeks of wearing the new devices and getting used to previously unheard sounds, most people visit their audiologist again to get their devices fine-tuned.

Physical adjustment

Most hearing aids have custom-fitted earmolds, which means they should fit comfortably within one's ear. However, it can still take a few weeks for people with hearing aids to stop noticing the devices in or behind the ears. Audiologists note that hearing aids can cause slight tenderness at first, but that if they cause any amount of pain, you should return to the audiologist immediately to discern and fix the problem. Often times, open-fit styles are easier to adjust to because they don't cause a "plugged up" feeling in the ears.

One's own voice

A lot of people struggle with how their voice sounds when they speak - it may sound louder than they are used to. Additionally, people with hearing aids might feel like they are chewing and swallowing very loudly because they aren't used to hearing these internal sounds. One way to get used to one's own voice is to read aloud in a quiet room.

How you can help

There are many things that you can do to help your loved one adjust to his or her new hearing aids. You can be a patient one-on-one conversation partner as your loved one practices listening. Another thing that many people try is you read the newspaper or a book out loud as your loved one with hearing aids reads along silently - this can help him or her re-learn how to recognize particularly difficult sounds.

You can also quiz him or her on sound recognition. Come up with a list of word pairs - like dish and fish or pop and top - that differ by only one consonant sound. Read them aloud so your loved one can watch your lip movements, and then practice with him or her by having that person look away and try to differentiate between the words. Consonant sounds are the most difficult.

You can also help by:

  • Be patient. It can be challenging and frustrating to adjust to new hearing aids, but it's worth it in the long run.
  • Offer a listening ear. Your partner or loved one with hearing loss might need to vent his or her frustrations, and you can offer empathy and moral support during particularly tough days.
  • Be the driver. Your loved one will likely need to make at least one or two follow-up visits to the audiologist to have his or her hearing aids adjusted. You can show your support by driving!
  • Keep a sense of humor. This is particularly important in stressful times.

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