If you're not hearing as well as you used to, you may be one of the 36 million Americans with hearing loss. Fortunately, depending on the type of hearing loss you have, you may benefit from wearing hearing aids. Most hearing aid users report a better quality of life, which includes improved relationships with family and friends, a feeling of security and independence, greater job performance and earning potential, and more satisfaction interacting in social situations.
Here's what you can do to maximize your hearing health and ensure a successful transition to hearing aid use.
Make the decision
Think of a hearing test as you do your annual physical or eye exam. Regardless of how "encouraging" your friends and family are about having your hearing checked, this is one decision you have to come to on your own if you want to be successful.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), only one of every five individuals who could benefit from wearing hearing aids actually wears them. That's concerning because research indicates hearing loss can contribute to other health issues including depression, anxiety, and social isolation. Because we actually hear with our brains, other studies indicate untreated hearing loss can lead to deterioration of the auditory pathway and ability for the brain to process sound, which may contribute to the development of dementia or Alzheimer's.
So - if you're having problems hearing as well as you used to, make an appointment to have your hearing tested. Put aside the stigma - hearing aids aren't for old people, they're for people who want to hear better. Statistics indicate close to 80 percent of hearing aid users are satisfied with the benefits they receive from their amplification devices and would recommend them to their friends.
See a professional
Don't trust your hearing health to anyone who isn't qualified to test your hearing and address your individual hearing needs or order hearing amplification online without consulting a medical professional. Audiologists are healthcare professionals who evaluate, diagnose, treat and manage hearing loss and balance disorders in children and adults. Not only can they determine what type of hearing loss you have, they can also help determine what type of hearing aid fits your ears and your lifestyle.
Your hearing loss can be caused by a variety of problems including damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve (sensorineural hearing loss), an obstruction in the ear (conductive hearing loss), or a combination of both (mixed hearing loss). Most sensorineural hearing loss, including age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) and noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), can be treated with hearing aids.
If your audiologist determines you do need hearing aids, there are a variety of styles to choose from. In-the-Canal (ITC) and Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC) hearing aids are contained in a small case and fit completely in the ear canal, making them virtually undetectable. In-the-Ear (ITE) hearing aids fit right inside the ear and may be easier to handle than ITC or CIC models. Behind-the-Ear (BTE) hearing aids are contained in a small plastic case that fits behind the ear and is connected to an ear mold. Some BTE models have an open fit, with a clear plastic tube that runs into the ear canal that is held in place by a small, acrylic dome or silicone tip. New digital technology makes it possible for you to connect wirelessly to your telephone, television, computer and personal electronic devices.
Take someone with you to the appointment so they can ask questions you may not think of and help you listen for the answers. Ask your audiologist if they have a trial period. If so, make sure you understand the details.
Once you have your hearing aids, realize there will be an adjustment period. Depending upon the type of hearing aid you purchase, your own voice may sound different when you speak. Most likely, you'll begin hearing sounds you've haven't heard for awhile - birds chirping, the turn signal on your car, household appliances. Because we actually hear with our brains, yours may need to re-learn how to interpret sounds its forgotten. Be prepared to follow a gradual wearing schedule and participate in additional training and counseling related to your hearing loss and hearing aids.
Take time to learn the features of your hearing aid. Many can be programmed for different listening environments, including noisy restaurants, an evening at the theatre or a walk in the park. Practice changing the batteries and cleaning the devices. Be honest with your audiologist and don't be afraid to ask for an adjustment if background noise is too loud or your hearing aids are uncomfortable.
Much like any other electronic device, there's a learning curve to wearing your hearing aids successfully. Your hearing aid professional will show you how to turn the devices on and off, change the batteries and keep them clean. Commit to wearing them daily. Make a list of any questions or concerns you have so you can ask them at your follow up appointments.
Keep your follow up appointments
Audiologists will tell you one of the biggest key to hearing aid success is to see your audiologist regularly. These hearing health professionals will be able to trouble shoot any problems you're having with your hearing aids and keep a watchful eye on your hearing health.
Like other medical devices, hearing aids have their limitations. Their main function is to amplify sound, so they will not restore normal hearing - or any communication problems you may have.
Remember that even people with normal hearing have problems understanding speech in noisy situations or hearing every sound in their environment. Be honest with your audiologist, keep you appointments faithfully, take care of your hearing aids and they will be your key to better communication with your friends and family.