To hear or not to hear
In honor of Better Speech and Hearing Month in May, I’d like to address how to get the better use out of hearing aids. This article focuses on three areas: realistic expectations, cleaning and care and battery usage.
Once in a great while, a hearing aid patient of mine will say “I never miss a word when I wear my hearing aids.” While it’s great to hear that, I know it’s not literally true. Hearing aids are recommended and fit to provide help, but they cannot be expected to provide perfect hearing in all places. People with normal hearing often miss parts of conversations, particularly in noisy places with poor acoustics. Your hearing care professional should explain your hearing test results, particularly the part called “speech discrimination” or “word recognition.” Some people have excellent ability to understand speech with their hearing aids, while others have difficulty with word understanding. If your vision is not seriously impaired, looking at the speaker contributes positively to understanding conversation. One more very important factor is your age. As we pass the age of 60, our auditory “wiring” in the brain slowly diminishes, causing more difficulty in noisy places. People over the age of 90 tend to have enormous difficulty with noise, even when using superior hearing aid technology.
With the caring help of an experienced audiologist or hearing aid dispenser, developing realistic expectations helps increase contentment with the benefits AND limitations of hearing aids. The interpretation of your hearing test also provides a great deal of useful information to form realistic expectations.
Cleaning and care
When a hearing aid stops working properly, the majority of the problems are ear wax issues. If you tend to produce a lot of ear wax, it usually blocks the pathway of sound and causes reduced hearing. Most of today’s hearing aids have wax protection filters, but they need to be cleaned and replaced regularly. However, you will need to be vigilant about cleaning your hearing aids if you tend to produce excessive ear wax. If you haven’t been shown how to clean the hearing aids, ask your hearing aid provider for help. Patients can become understandably frustrated to drive 45 minutes for an office visit only to find out it was ear wax on the device that could have been easily cleaned at home. Also ask your hearing aid provider about “dry aid” kits, especially during the summer months. Moisture and humidity can cause poor performance or breakage in a hearing aid. Don’t leave a hearing aid on a table or anywhere that a dog (or even a cat) can get to it. Dogs seem to like to chew them up and spit them out!
Hearing aid batteries sold in Maine are mercury-free, which is a public safety improvement. These batteries have a piece of protective tape that you remove before using. To get the best performance out of your batteries, follow this procedure: after you peel off the tape, wait at least one minute before inserting it into your hearing aid. The battery needs one minute to charge to its full voltage, usually 1.4 volts, and provide optimum performance. With some batteries and hearing aids, failure to give it the full minute may provide a false low battery signal, causing you to throw away a good battery and wonder why you are getting poor battery life. Store your hearing aid batteries at room temperature, not in the refrigerator. For a realistic expectation of how long your battery should last, ask your hearing aid professional, as each hearing aid manufacturer provides an estimate of what the battery life expectancy should be.
If you have difficulty hearing and would like more information, contact Pen Bay Speech & Hearing at 230-6380.
Gary Friedman, M.S., F-AAA, is an audiologist at Pen Bay Speech & Hearing with extensive experience in audiometric testing, hearing aid dispensing and videonystagmography (VNG) evaluations.