Do friends and family continually push you to get a hearing aid? Or even if you have one and wear it, do you feel isolated — that you’re still missing out on what’s going on around you at family functions, meetings or having lunch with a friend?
Or do you know someone with a hearing aid who still doesn’t seem to hear well?
According to the trade group Better Hearing Institute, about one-quarter of the people who own hearing aids don’t wear them regularly. As a result, people who can’t hear as well as they would be able to with a hearing aid are missing out on all that life has to offer.
WHAT TO DO
Consider these steps to make your hearing aid more useful…
See a doctor of audiology (AuD) for a yearly audiogram to measure your hearing level and make sure that the programming on your digital aid is up-to-date (analog aids are very rare these days — if you have one, seriously consider upgrading to a digital). Because hearing loss usually progresses gradually, it’s easy to miss changes. A digital hearing aid is programmed to correct for your hearing loss precisely and requires adjustments as your hearing deteriorates.
Signs that your hearing aid needs reprogramming: Background noise seems too loud with the hearing aid on, or people seem to be slurring or mumbling their words. Most hearing loss caused by aging occurs in the upper pitch range. In English, this range tends to include the consonants, which makes it easy to confuse, say, “sat” with “cat.”
A properly programmed digital hearing aid suppresses background noise and amplifies the pitch ranges where you need help.
Helpful: Get a new audiogram if you are exposed to loud noise (prolonged exposure, or even one very loud sound, can damage hearing) or are taking certain chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin (Platinol) and carboplatin (Paraplatin), since these drugs may damage your hearing.
Have your hearing aid checked out with an audiologist at least once a year — it may need repairs, which the audiologist can perform. If the sound is distorted or weak, it’s easy to put the hearing aid aside and forget about it, but a simple repair could make it useful again.
Check whether the ear “mold” (the custom-made part of a hearing aid that fits in the ear) or the hearing aid (if it sits within your ear) still fits. The ear may stretch in response to a hearing aid and aging, and after 18 months, the mold or hearing aid may fit too loosely.
Losing as little as five pounds can also make your hearing aid fit too loosely. A loose aid feels unsecured — which may make you reluctant to wear it — and the looseness could result in feedback noises or ineffective amplification.
Clean the hearing aid ear mold once a week. Earwax in the mold or tubing will block sound, so make sure that the opening is clear. Wiping the aid at least once a week with a tissue or alcohol-free moist wipe may also help prevent infections.
Store the hearing aid properly. Moisture can decrease the efficiency of a hearing aid. If you live in or frequently visit a humid climate, store your aid in a container designed to keep it dry (available from your audiologist) in order to prevent breakdowns. There are also electrical devices currently on the market that can both dry and sanitize the aid. I recommend the Dry & Store brand, found online at www.dryandstore.com or through your audiologist.
Cost: $82 to $173.
Consider wearing the device every day to build up comfort. Some wearers get into the habit of using their hearing aids only on special occasions. This means that their ears never have a chance to completely adjust to how the devices fit or sound. Most people eventually find their aids comfortable for all-day use if they give them a chance.
Best: If you are an occasional wearer, allow yourself to grow fully comfortable with your hearing aid by wearing it two hours a day, every day, to start and then gradually wear it for longer and longer periods. After three or four days, you should be able to wear the device with little or no discomfort.
Upgrade to a better aid. The clarity of the sound produced by a good-quality hearing aid has improved much in the last three years. Especially if your hearing aid is not digital, it will have poorer sound quality and inability to cancel out background noise, among other drawbacks. You may do much better with one of the newer digital aids.
Note: The more sophisticated the technology, the higher the cost — $1,500 is the minimum you should spend. Anything less will be of poorer quality. A financing plan from the audiologist may be available. Some charities and service clubs offer assistance.
Coming soon: A proposed Hearing Aid Tax Credit has been reintroduced in Congress. It would offer up to a $500 tax credit for the purchase of one hearing aid every five years (www.hearingaidtaxcredit.org).
Consider buying a second aid if you own only one hearing aid and have hearing loss in both ears. Most types of hearing loss affect both ears about equally. While you can make do with one hearing aid, having an aid in each ear helps you locate the source of a sound and helps you better understand speech in a noisy environment. Some people find that they are more likely to wear any aid when they have the benefits of two.
JOYS OF HEARING
If your hearing aid works and feels fine, but you still don’t like to wear it, consider…
Hearing well keeps you young. Some seniors view a hearing aid as a sign of decline. In fact, hearing badly will call more attention to a senior’s age because it may mimic mental deterioration and make observers question a senior’s attention span or memory.
Relationships improve when you hear as well as possible. Hearing loss leads to miscommunication, which not only makes everyday tasks more difficult, but can easily lead to misunderstandings and arguments. Family members may be stressed by the volume of the radio or television or the need for constant repetition in conversation… the hearing-impaired person may isolate himself/herself rather than struggle to hear. In contrast, families of hearing-aid users report that the resulting better communication improves their relationships.