As of Thursday, January 15, 2015
DEAR DOCTOR K: After years of living with hearing loss, I am soon going to get my first hearing aid. Anything I should know ahead of time to be prepared?
DEAR READER: The first thing many new users of hearing aids notice is that sounds seem strange. Think of how different your own voice sounds when you listen to a tape recording of yourself.
You may also be more aware than ever before of your footsteps, your car’s motor, the sounds you make as you chew your food, and just about any other environmental noise. Many hearing aids can be adjusted to lower the volume of unwanted noise. But more important, with time, your brain will get better at tuning it out.
You may also find that the hearing aid doesn’t do one of the things you’d most hoped that it would: understand every word in a conversation. Remember that hearing every word isn’t necessary. The goal is to follow conversations easily in different environments. Continue to rely on the visual cues that you’ve been using to understand words, like lip movements, facial expressions and hand gestures.
Getting used to a hearing aid takes time, usually at least a month to six weeks. But it may take as long as several months. If you don’t notice a marked improvement by the end of the first month, however, your hearing aid may not be right for you.
While you’re adjusting to your hearing aid, remember these tips:
— Start off with one-on-one conversations, which are the easiest ones to understand. Gradually work up to conversations with two or more people.
— Realize that understanding conversations in noisy places, such as restaurants and parties, will be difficult at first. With time and practice, your ability to hear in these settings will improve. Watch the person who is speaking so you can pick up gestures and other visual cues. Position yourself close to the person who is speaking.
— Install a telephone amplifier at home to help you hear telephone conversations.
— If using the phone is a problem, consider email or text messaging instead.
— Finally, wear your hearing aid. The more you use it, the faster you are likely to adjust to it, and the better your hearing will be.
I’m often surprised by how some of my patients resist my suggestion that they get a hearing aid. They remember what hearing aids used to look like: large, unattractive objects stuck inside the ear, visible to everyone. They’re concerned that a hearing aid will make them look old.
They also have heard that hearing aids don’t improve the most common problem they have: hearing conversations in noisy places. They’ve heard that hearing aids may make the voice of someone speaking to them louder, but that they also make the noise louder. So it’s not easier to hear conversations.
Today’s hearing aids are tiny and often invisible. They also are a lot better at amplifying a voice nearby without similarly increasing the noise.
Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.