Hearing health can be difficult to understand and manage. In today’s world, there are many venues to receive hearing health care. Technology can also differ greatly due to an increasing number of hearing aid varieties. As a clinical audiologist, I educate my patients about maintaining their hearing devices and how to maintain their overall hearing health. Hearing aids, cochlear implants, and your ears all need routine care. Your daily communication will be greatly improved if you take the time to understand both the technology you are using and how to manage your hearing loss.
1. Routine Hearing Test
Hearing testing should be done routinely. The majority of hearing loss occurs gradually. It can be difficult to perceive if a hearing loss has occurred to even the most discerning patient. Having a baseline hearing test, followed by further testing will ensure that small changes are detected early. Early detection of hearing loss is important. Studies show that early treatment of hearing loss will significantly improve outcomes. Hearing aids will benefit you even with a mild hearing loss. Our ears are the gateway to our auditory cortex. The auditory cortex is the part of the brain that makes sense of the sounds around us. The auditory cortex is similar to a muscle, and just like your muscles would shrink if you decided to not lift weights, the function of your auditory cortex will decrease function if the sound stimulus is decreased. Even a mild hearing loss will start to change the way the brain reacts to sound, and if you delay treatment too long regaining the same function will be more difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve.
Some signs that your hearing may have changed:
- You are asking people to repeat themselves more than before.
- You have been feeling like people mumble when they speak.
- Your television has to be increased in volume for you to hear it well.
- It is more difficult to hear in background noise than it used to be.
2. Technology Management
If you have hearing loss and are wearing technology such as hearing aids or a cochlear implant, routine maintenance is essential. It is possible that your hearing may change over time and the devices may need to be adjusted. In addition, Hearing aids are small electronic devices that sit in your ear where there is sweat and wax. To ensure they are functioning properly, it is important to have them professionally cleaned from time to time and to have your ears looked at to ensure the skin inside remains healthy and that no wax blockages are occurring.
3. Communication Strategies
Hearing aides are one part of an effective communication plan. Another important part of communication is relying on other visual cues like facial expressions and body language. When tested, most people perform better when they are able to watch the speaker’s face. Although you may not be conscious of it, seeing a speaker’s face will help you understand what they say, even when you did not clearly hear what they said.
Background noise is troublesome for speech comprehension because the signal is difficult to detect. Picture deer on an empty hillside. With no other objects, it is easy to see. Now picture the same hillside but with several trees and bushes around the deer. The task of finding the deer in the trees is more difficult than finding the deer on the empty hillside. Our ears have the same problem. When background noise is present it is harder for our ears to focus on the speech we care about. It takes more work for us to understand speech in the midst of background noise. Because the task takes more work, it will create auditory fatigue. Many people experience auditory fatigue but with even a mild hearing loss, the task of listening is more difficult, and auditory fatigue may happen more quickly.
These are some rules that you can incorporate into your communication routines to give yourself every advantage for communication. While these things may seem like common sense, they are easy to forget.
- The speaker should have your full attention before launching into a lengthy speech.
- Face the speaker so that you have access to visual cues.
- Make sure you are in the same room with the person you are talking to.
- Try to dedicate yourself to listening, multi-tasking can make understanding more difficult
- Reduce background noise when possible.
- Don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat or rephrase if you didn’t understand.
4. Hearing Health Education
Fully understanding your hearing loss, your hearing test, how to make a communication plan, hearing aid technology, and the hearing aid process is essential to making sure you are getting the most out of your hearing. A frequent misunderstanding is that hearing aids only will fix hearing loss. Hearing loss is complex and requires technology in conjunction with deliberate communication strategies
It is important for the patient, their family, their caregivers, friends, and others to understand how to navigate communication. Many audiologists and hearing instrument specialists are excellent at providing patient education but are limited by appointment times. Due to the lack of easily accessible education on hearing loss I have created an online course that walks you through all of these topics in depth. If you would like to learn more about hearing loss, hearing aids, communication strategies, the process for managing hearing loss and more, I would encourage you to join me in my course. You can find the course at www.audiologyconsults.com. You may also contact me there if you would like to connect or have questions.