In Honor of Better Speech and Hearing Month.by Dr. R. Patrick Francis
Board Certified Audiologist
You will need to re-acquaint yourself with the world of sound that is often forgotten, and rarely accurately remembered.
The road to better hearing is a process; it does not just happen the first day you try hearing aids. Hearing loss affects both your awareness of sound (loudness) and the quality (base/treble) of sound.
Typically, a person seeking help with their hearing has had the problem loss for many years. And like most problems in life, the longer problems are unresolved; the more complicated the solution becomes. This unfortunate fact holds true for untreated hearing loss. As hearing loss gradually worsens, sounds slowly fade into the distance until they simply no longer exist and are soon forgotten. After years of hearing sound in a muted fashion, we tend to remember sounds with the same muted quality.
Because we tend to “remember” sound in a muted fashion, we become almost hyper-sensitive to the presence of these sounds when they are again made audible. Our brain’s re-awakening to the awareness of sound often results in the perception that they are too loud.
The perception of loudness is not the only facet of our hearing that changes with unresolved hearing loss. Often the quality of sound is not what we remember. Again, it is directly related to the way the brain currently perceives sound, and how it “remembers” sounds. We typically lose hearing in the high pitches first. So gradually, the world of sound that constantly surrounds us becomes dull and flat. Over time, our brain “expects” sound to be dull and flat, thus we start to remember sounds in that fashion. With the reintroduction of proper pitch, the brain again overreacts. This can result in the perception that things sound tinnie and sharp.
For years our brain has been telling us that the world of sound is muted, dull and flat. With hearing aids, we hear sounds that were “never” there (forgotten sounds), the sounds that we do remember were never that loud (muted), and they sound artificial (base/treble). What do we do now?
Fortunately, there are several tools at our disposal to help patients navigate this reacquired sense of hearing. First, it is the responsibility of the audiologist to ask about your hearing world. The audiologist will then be in a position to help you anticipate experiences and special circumstances you may encounter.
Secondly, the available technology can be extremely sophisticated. Many hearing aids can monitor the sound around you, record any changes that you make, self adjust, and even suggest changes based on this information. Some hearing aids have the capacity to be pre-set to make specific changes based on hours of use or over a period of months. This can save you time and in some cases, a trip to the audiologist for an adjustment.
Finally, you must become actively involved in the process of better hearing. Use your hearing aids daily and keep track of your new hearing experiences. Then share these experiences, both good and bad, with your audiologist so that they can ensure you are getting the most out of you hearing aids.
If hearing instruments are used consistently and with determination, adaptation will eventually take place and sounds become normal again. With the sophisticated technology that is available, and a skilled audiologist, you will be able to make the transition to better hearing comfortably. Given the right attitude, the experience can be quite fun and rewarding.