Dispel these outdated beliefs before you decide whether to get hearing aids.
Technology is changing at a very fast pace, and it’s hard to keep up—with computers, with cell phones, and with hearing aids. If you’ve had experience with hearing aids in the past, or even if you’ve just heard about previous generations of hearing technology, it’s very likely that you have some misconceptions.
Let’s say you want to buy a phone, but your concept of a telephone includes a rotary dial: you’d be operating under some outdated ideas, wouldn’t you? The same holds true with hearing aids. Technology has changed a lot—even in just the last five years. If you are considering hearing aids, the best thing you can do is to dismiss any pre-existing ideas you have about hearing technology and then do your research with a clean slate. Here’s a bit of myth-busting to get you started.
1. MYTH: Hearing aids are only for old people-or they’ll make me feel old.
“People think having hearing aids means that you’re old,” says Prabhu Ponnusamy, an audiologist and owner of Abel Hearing Clinic based in Launceston, Tasmania. “That’s just not the case anymore,” he says. In fact, about two-thirds of those with hearing loss are younger than age 64. Hearing loss has many causes and affects people of all ages.
Wearable assistive technology is becoming more and more prevalent across age groups, as well. From wrist-bands that track your movement to in-ear Bluetooth devices to Google Glass, people are wearing technology for all kinds of reasons, making hearing aids a bit more status quo.
2. MYTH: Hearing aids are big, bulky, and unsightly.
Today’s hearing aids are considerably smaller and more discreet than ever before, and they come in a wide range of colors, just like watches, purses, and cell phones. There are even hearing aids that can be placed completely within the ear canal so as to be totally invisible.
Prabhu Ponnusamy, who recently started his own practice after 15 years’ experience at a clinic, agrees that the big, bulky hearing aid is a thing of the past. “Definitely people have this misconception: they think of that brown banana, the huge BTE [behind-the-ear] hearing aid,” he says. “Things have changed so much: hearing aids are stylish; they’re discreet; they’re easy to use.”
3. MYTH: Hearing aids are only for people with severe hearing loss.
Anyone who’s seen fuzzy newsprint spring into focus when they don a pair of reading glasses can tell you that vision correction isn’t just for people with severe myopia. In the same way, hearing aids can greatly assist people with mild to moderate hearing loss, and many models are intended for just that. Even with mild hearing loss, you may be missing out on conversations with grandchildren, the sounds of birds singing, elements of your favorite music, and more.
“We hear with our brains, we don’t really hear with our ears.”
It’s also important to correct hearing loss when it first begins, for a variety of reasons. “There’s a link between hearing loss and loss of cognition,” says Prabhu, pointing out that treating hearing loss isn’t just cosmetic. “We hear with our brains, we don’t really hear with our ears. The ears just turn the sound into a signal that the brain can interpret. Controlling our hearing pathways also seems to help with memory, helps people connect socially, and all of those factors contribute to aging in a more graceful way. It lets you live your life on your own terms, rather than kind of shrinking away gradually into the night.” Prabhu also points out that the longer a person has gone with hearing loss, the more rehabilitation and “re-forging of neural pathways” they need in order to accurately translate sound into meaning again.
4. MYTH: I can’t afford hearing aids.
If you are concerned about the costs of hearing aids, you’re not alone. Talk with your audiologist about your concerns; he or she may know of additional, local resources.
The Australian Government Hearing Services Program provides eligible people with access to a range of free and subsidised hearing services, including:
- a comprehensive hearing assessment performed by a hearing services provider;
- help with your hearing loss and communication needs, including support and rehabilitation services;
- access to a wide range of high quality hearing devices, if required, made by leading manufacturers; and
- optional maintenance support. You can receive repairs and batteries to support your hearing device for a small fee.
You are eligible for the program if you are an Australian citizen or permanent resident 21 years or older and you are:
- a Pensioner Concession Card Holder;
- receiving Sickness Allowance from Centrelink;
- the holder of a Gold Repatriation Health Card issued for all conditions;
- the holder of a White Repatriation Health Card issued for conditions that include hearing loss;
- a dependent of a person in one of the above categories;
- a member of the Australian Defence Force; or
- part of the Australian Government funded Disability Employment Services (DES) – Disability Management Service and you are referred by your Disability Employment Services case manager.
- younger than 26 years;
- an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander who is over 50 years;
- an Indigenous participant in the Remote Jobs and Community Program; or
- a former Indigenous participant in a Community Development Employment Projects Program, who received hearing services before 30 June 2013.
In addition, National Disability Insurance Scheme participants may access hearing services through the program if referred for services by their National Disability Insurance Agency Planner.
Not everyone is eligible for the Australian Government Hearing Services Program (the program). If you are not eligible for the program, you may be able to have a hearing aid fitted at a reduced cost through a hearing aid bank. Information is available on the read more link below.
This information is general advice only. For further information or to apply for the program please visit the Office of Hearing Services website or contact the Office of Hearing Services:
Client Services and General Enquiries please call 1800 500 726
If you use a telephone typewriter (TTY) telephone 1800 500 496
For the purpose of eligibility to the program, a member of the Australian Defence Force is considered to be:
- a current member of the Permanent Navy, the Regular Army or the Permanent Air Force; or
- a current member of the Reserves who is rendering continuous full-time service.
5. MYTH: Hearing aids make everything sound too loud.
“This is another thing that has changed,” says Prabhu. “Thirty years ago, people were always messing with their hearing aids, turning them up, turning them down. A lot of times it was an all-or-nothing thing.” But nowadays, hearing aids can be adjusted in extremely minute increments. Many have a variety of programs you can use for various situations: some will adjust automatically, and some have remote controls for discrete adjustment. It’s important to continue working with your audiologist until you’ve got the right fit.
6. MYTH: Hearing aids can’t help with my tinnitus.
Nowadays, some hearing aids come with a special tinnitus program that provides background noise or other features to help minimize the effects of tinnitus. By reducing the effect of the tinnitus while simultaneously increasing hearing, especially through digital streaming to both ears, this technology can make an enormous difference.
7. MYTH: I only need one hearing aid.
Research shows that speech is much easier to understand when hearing aids are worn in both ears. That goes for listening in normal environments as well as in noisy situations. Simply put, while one hearing aid hones in on speech, the other diminishes distracting background noise. The combination makes it a breeze to hear clear conversation.
By wearing hearing aids in both ears, sound is able to reach and stimulate each ear’s auditory nerve, keeping the nerve actively engaged. Studies have shown that if auditory nerves aren’t stimulated by sound, they can slow down and make hearing loss worse. This condition is called Auditory Deprivation. Hearing aids keep our auditory nerves functioning, which lowers the risk of Auditory Deprivation.
Wearing two hearing aids can increase your safety and awareness. The ability to know where sound is coming from depends on hearing with both ears. Everyday examples might be turning in the correct direction when you hear your name called, or knowing where an ambulance or fire truck is when you hear a siren in traffic.
Two hearing aids more accurately represent the way things are meant to sound. For instance, when music, television, movies, and peoples’ voices are heard with two ears, we enjoy a sound quality that’s rich, balanced and full. Hearing with one ear can make things sound “tinny” and unnatural.
A single hearing aid may require you to crank up the volume to hear. But, two hearing aids let you listen at normal volumes, which minimizes sound distortion and auditory fatigue.
Patient satisfaction is much higher for people benefitting from binaural hearing aids, versus a single hearing instrument. Double your listening pleasure with two hearing aids instead of one.
8. MYTH: Hearing aid salespeople are charlatans.
As with any professional you choose, from attorney to dentist, you should always make sure you feel completely comfortable with your hearing care professional. Some things to ask about include:
- Level of education. The requirements range greatly, from a high school diploma to eight years of pre-and post-graduate study. (Philosophy and approach to treating hearing loss)
- Professional experience
- Commitment to your community
- Particular experience with the kind of hearing loss you have
9. MYTH: Follow ups aren’t necessary; they’re just a way for audiologists to charge me more money.
On the contrary, follow-up visits are the only way to make sure your hearing aids are adjusted properly and working optimally. Prabhu uses real ear measurement tools to provide what he calls a “third-party verification” of how well hearing aids are working. With a tiny microphone placed inside the ear canal, he can see on how the hearing aid is performing. “You actually measure what’s coming out of the hearing aid,” instead of just guessing about how well the hearing aid is working, and make adjustments as necessary.
This technology is especially important with young children or people with severe hearing loss, who may not know or be able to describe how the hearing aid is performing.
10. MYTH: Hearing aids will work perfectly right away, like putting on a pair of glasses.
Treating loss of hearing is quite a bit different than treating loss of vision, and it almost always takes a couple of sessions to get things just right. This is partly a matter of making sure the hearing aids are adjusted correctly, but also of re-training the brain to interpret and prioritize sounds.The biggest surprise for new hearing aid users is how noisy the world is. “It can be a little overwhelming.”
Treating loss of hearing is quite a bit different than treating loss of vision, and it almost always takes a couple of sessions to get things just right.
Audiologists use specific techniques to help minimize the surprise of hearing again. Usually, with a first fitting, the audiologist doesn’t set the hearing aids to the full prescription, instead allowing patients to adjust incrementally. “It takes about three visits to get the hearing aids completely dialed in. People have to retrain their brains to filter out some of those loud sounds,” and also re-learn what sounds require their attention. The ticking of the clock and the hum of the refrigerator are sounds they may not have heard for a while, and it takes time to train the brain to ignore them again.
After a while, though, the important sounds stand out. “They can hear their grandkids, not just pretend that they did,”. “They can hear the fwap when they hit their golf ball. But it all takes time to adjust to.”
The audiologist also gives patients exercises to help them adjust, such as reading aloud to themselves for 10 minutes a day. “It’s not enough to just put hearing aids on someone and send them out the door,” he says.
11. MYTH: If I don’t like my hearing aids, I’m stuck with them. It’s a big decision and I won’t know if I’m making the right one until it’s too late.
Would you buy a car without taking it for a test drive? Prabhu lets his patients take a pair of hearing aids home for a few days or even a few weeks, and he says some other practitioners do the same. Since he knows that his office isn’t the most realistic sound environment, he invites people to take them home. “I think they have to try them in the real world,” he says.
In addition, “Almost every clinic should have a return policy, too. At the Abel Hearing Clinic, you have a 30-day right of return.”