Contributed by Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
Many people are surprised to learn that it can take awhile to get used to hearing aids, especially if you’ve never worn them before. Along with learning how they work, you’re also grappling with all the new sounds and stimuli that your brain has forgotten about in recent years. Your hearing care professional will be an important partner as you learn to use your hearing aids, and you should not hesitate to reach out to them between appointments if you have any questions.
The biggest change may be your own voice
It is important to remember that hearing aids will not exactly replicate how you used to hear before you had hearing loss. For some people, the biggest change is the sound of their own voice.
At first, you will be aware of hearing aids in your ears and your voice will sound “funny.”
You’ll find that at first, you voice sounds funny or unfamiliar, and also may sound louder than you’d like. Chewing and swallowing may be especially noticeable. These sensations, which are annoying at first, will dissipate the more you wear your hearing aids. (If they don’t, be sure to see your hearing care provider.)
Tips for getting used to hearing aids
1. Wear them at home first
Start by wearing your hearing aids at home or in other quiet listening environments. Focus on having one-on-one conversations. Let your friends and family know you’re using your new hearing aids so they can help you stay committed to better hearing as you wear your aids in more challenging environments. Reading aloud or talking to your pet can also help you get used to your own voice, too.
2. Give yourself homework
For extra practice with your hearing aids, try to locate the sources of all the sounds in your environment, or listen to audio books or talk radio while you’re home alone.
3. Take breaks
Wear them a few hours the first day, then a few more hours every day after that. Gradually increase the number of hours you wear them per day, and the situations in which you wear them.
4. Attend follow-up visits
You’ll want to see your hearing care professional for as many follow-up visits as you need to fine-tune the sounds you’re hearing, adjust the fit in your ear and talk about the situations that are most challenging for you. Most people visit their audiologist about two weeks after their first fitting to get their devices fine-tuned and possibl adjust the volume.
5. Attend hearing aid care classes
If your hearing care professional offers orientation classes for new hearing aid wearers, be sure to sign up. These classes are very helpful and lead to greater satisfaction with hearing aid use.
6. Anticipate some frustration, especially with background noise
If you haven’t heard well in a few years, hearing aids flood your ears with sounds you didn’t notice before, and it can be a bit of sound overload. For example, the humming of the refrigerator—a background noise that most people seldom notice—might seem very loud or unbearable. This is because your brain has forgotten how to sort out background noise and to prioritize certain sounds over others. People adjusting to a new hearing aid have to relearn how to ignore background noise, and it’s important for them to be patient and take it slow as their brains adjust.
7. Report any pain
Depending on your hearing needs, you may have custom-fitted earmolds, which means they should fit comfortably within your ears. Audiologists note that hearing aids can cause slight tenderness at first, but that if they cause any amount of pain, you should return to the audiologist immediately to fix the problem. Often times, receiver-in-the-ear styles with domes are easier to adjust to because they don’t cause a “plugged up” feeling in the ears like earmolds can, and they’re gentle on the ear canals.
If your loved one is getting hearing aids
How you can help
There are many things that you can do to help your loved one adjust to his or her new hearing aids. You can be a patient one-on-one conversation partner as your loved one practices listening. Another thing that many people try is you read the newspaper or a book out loud as your loved one with hearing aids reads along silently—this can help him or her re-learn how to recognize particularly difficult sounds.
You can also quiz him or her on sound recognition. Come up with a list of word pairs—like dish and fish or pop and top—that differ by only one consonant sound. Read them aloud so your loved one can watch your lip movements, and then practice with him or her by having that person look away and try to differentiate between the words. Consonant sounds are the most difficult.
You can also help by:
- Being patient. It can be challenging and frustrating to adjust to new hearing aids, but it’s worth it in the long run.
- Offering a listening ear. Your partner or loved one with hearing loss might need to vent his or her frustrations, and you can offer empathy and moral support during particularly tough days.
- Participating in appointments. Your loved one will likely need to make at least one or two follow-up visits to the audiologist to have his or her hearing aids adjusted. Having you there can be useful for any lingering questions.
- Laughing and keeping a sense of humor. This is particularly important in stressful times.
- Learning more about hearing loss, hearing aids, and hearing aid accessories like batteries (your partner may need help changing them).
A whole new world
After a few weeks, chirping birds and raindrops on the roof will be pleasant, rather than startling, and you’ll find that your wearing your hearing aids for longer and longer stretches. The sound of your own voice will sound less annoying, and you’ll learn to tune out the sounds you don’t need to hear, like the fridge or the ceiling fan. You may even find you’re less tired than you used to be— you’re no longer taxing your brain by struggling to hear all day.
Even better: All the new stimulation is good for your brain, lowering the risk of cognitive decline, social isolation, depression and other negative impacts of untreated hearing problems. Need further convincing to keep those hearing aids in? Here’s 7 reasons to stop putting off hearing health.