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  • Kathleen Wallace

More Than Hearing Aids

Often, the public perception of audiology is device-centric, focusing almost exclusively on hearing aids. It becomes a matter of where to find the best deal, attempting to bargain with providers, comparing and contrasting various models and manufacturers, and attempting to decipher the jargon of features offered in hearing aids. But what isn't clearly understood is that hearing aids are just a component of plans for managing one's hearing loss.

Let me use an analogy to expand on this: imagine hearing aids are a computer. Yes, the color, form factor, size of the screen, battery life, and responsiveness of the keyboard matter. But all of that doesn't matter if you can't turn the computer on, aren't familiar with how to work a computer, have a super slow processor, have spotty wifi, or no internet access at all. No matter how advanced and cutting edge the device is, it won't do you any good without proper setup and training.

Similarly, you can get so distracted by the look of a hearing aid- how invisible it is, how light how comfortable, how discreet, and more. But what if you can't put it in your ear or insert a battery? And what if it isn't programmed or is programmed incorrectly?

Hearing aids truly are miniature computers. They have advanced micro computer chips with microphones, circuitry, and tiny speakers, sampling the environment 100x per second, analyzing the input and making split second decisions of what to amplify and what to ignore. For as advanced as hearing aids are, fully harnessing the potential of this technology requires professional guidance. At a minimum, some evaluation of one's hearing sensitivity is required. Without it, we're wasting the hearing aid's processing algorithms because we aren't giving it the proper information to process. This is because hearing aids are not linear; they handle a whisper differently than someone speaking at a normal volume or shouting. Similarly, they handle footsteps differently than traffic noise or a siren.

Lastly, hearing aids typically require some training. While it may look basic to you, even the fundamentals of putting a device in your ear, changing a battery, or performing routine cleaning can be more challenging than expected.

But perhaps most importantly is that hearing loss isn't simply solved by using a hearing aid. As much as I wish it were as straightforward as wearing glasses and seeing everything clearly, your hearing simply isn't the same. If you were to all of a sudden hear everything, you would go crazy! That is because there are things you want to hear (your loved ones) and things you don't (background noise, other conversations, traffic). This ability to focus on what you want to hear and ignore what you don't is a complicated skill that takes practice. It is best achieved through counseling, communication strategies and education, and formal auditory training or listening therapy programs.

There's far more to hearing loss than just hearing aids. And there is far more to hearing aids than simply owning the device. It is all about how it is programmed, how you are trained to use it, and how to maximize your communication ability through rehabilitative programs and communication strategies.

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