So, you finally made that appointment for a hearing evaluation. Congratulations. You took that all-important first step to a better quality of life. Ah, but the results of that evaluation are…not what you were hoping. You have been told you are a hearing aid candidate and it is time to start researching which hearing aids are best for you.
Finding the best hearing aids is a process that is unique to each person with hearing loss. It is important to work closely with your hearing professional to determine which hearing aids best fit your hearing loss, lifestyle, listening needs and budget.
Hearing Test Results
A hearing evaluation is a simple test which allows a hearing professional to determine the type and extent of your hearing loss. The results of a hearing evaluation are displayed on a graph referred to as an audiogram. Hearing evaluations are simple, quick and they don’t hurt one bit. But they do provide the hearing professional the information she or he needs to make recommendations to improve the quality of life. YOUR life.
When hearing loss occurs in both ears, your hearing professional will recommend you wear two hearing aids.
The Advantages of Binaural Hearing
Don’t panic. Binaural simply means “two ears” – which is what nature gave you. Two ears are, indeed, better than one for a number of reasons.
Just like our eyes, our brains are wired to receive sound from both ears. Many first time hearing aid wearers think starting with just one hearing aid may be easier to adjust to or save them some money; however, two hearing aids are truly better than one. Here are some reasons why:
- Better localization – the ability to tell where sounds are coming from
- Better hearing in background noise
- Better sound quality (“mono” versus “stereo”)
- Better hearing for soft sounds such as children’s voices and sounds of nature
- Less strain on you while listening – with only one hearing aid you may often strain to hear various sounds and become fatigued, with two hearing aids listening is more relaxed
- Listening balance – you won’t be turning your “good” ear to hear.Higher success and satisfaction – studies indicate people who wear two hearing aids are much more satisfied with their hearing aids.
Studies have also shown when only one hearing aid is worn and the other ear is deprived of sound, the use it or lose it principle applies, causing the onset of auditory deprivation in the non-amplified ear.
So, you may save a few dollars by going the one-hearing-aid route but you may also find that one hearing aid causes more trouble than what your savings is worth.
Let’s take a closer look at why two hearing aids are almost always better than the one-hearing aid approach to hearing loss.
Localization is the ability to detect and determine the source of a sound. It’s a natural and sophisticated process that enables you to pinpoint the exact location of a bird twittering in the trees 100 yards away, for example.
The reason for this is simple. Sound travels in waves – disturbances in the air. These waves are picked up by the outer ear, called the pina, sent down the ear canal where the sound waves are processed by the hearing mechanism – a complex collection that includes the ear drum, the three smallest bones in the body, a fluid filled organ called the cochlea, and little hair-like projections that line the interior of the cochlea, floating in cochlear fluid.
These projections have the miraculous ability to turn mechanical sound waves into electrical impulses that are sent to the hearing centers of the brain where the sound is interpreted and localization occurs. You see, when that bird tweets and twitters, the sounds it makes reach one ear slightly ahead of the other ear. If the bird is to your right, the right ear hears the sound a split second before the left ear.
The brain is able to localize the sound because of this split second difference in the time it takes the sound to be processed. The hearing centers of the brain are able to pinpoint the location and source of the sound – and you hear that blue jay 300 feet away and can pick it out from the foliage that surrounds it.
Localization is an essential part of the listening experience. It warns us of danger. It points us in the direction of a distant caller or tells us which machine is running on the factory floor.
The ability to pinpoint the source of a sound is something you use everyday, though you may not even realize it. In fact, in most cases, you DON’T realize it. It happens automatically – at least when both ears are operating at peak performance levels.
Indeed, you may save a few dollars by only buying a hearing aid for the ear that’s experiencing hearing loss but you’ll also lose some or all of your ability to place the source of critical sounds. And that’s NOT going to make you happy. In fact, it may actually cause confusion and place you in danger because you think the car horn is coming from over there when, in fact, it’s coming from right behind you. (Time to get out of the way.)
Localization is essential for safety, productivity and overall quality of life. By wearing two hearing aids both ears are amplified based on the extent of the hearing loss. In fact many of today’s sophisticated digital hearing aids employ wireless communication between the two hearing aids – allowing them to work precisely together to ensure localization cues are maintained between the two ears. The left and right hearing aids communicate with each other to ensure they are utilizing the same listening strategies in different environments.
An example is the Oticon Epoq. When two Oticon Epoqs are wirelessly connected, they talk with each other. This allows the two hearing aids to coordinate many aspects of the sound processing to improve the ability to locate the direction of sounds and ultimately improve your listening experience.
The result? You’ll be able to localize sound – to precisely pinpoint the source of all the sounds you hear throughout the day. This is especially important when in background noise.
See, hearing is much more than just understanding words spoken at you. It’s also about understanding sounds that you pick up throughout the day and determining where those sounds are coming from.
And that’s a good thing. A very good thing.
No we’re not talking about music here. Other advantages listed of wearing two hearing aids include improved listening in background noise as well as reduced strain while listening. Let’s face it, background noise is annoying – even for people with normal hearing! So for persons with hearing loss wearing hearing aids, background noise can be even more annoying.
Using two hearing aids, properly tuned to address the different hearing loss of each ear, cuts through some of this background noise enabling you to hear more clearly. The brain retrains itself to filter out unnecessary noise while picking up the sounds of your dinner companion without having to turn your head so your hearing aid is pointing directly at the speaker.
The ability to hear “through” background noise comes in handy in lots of places and under lots of different conditions – everything from a baseball game to an important business meeting with sounds coming from different directions simultaneously.
This not only improves your ability to listen in background noise, but you will no longer have to strain to hear.
And when the two hearing aids are communicating together wirelessly, like in the Epoq, the benefits and listening experience are further enhanced.
Improved Sound Quality
This one is simple. Mono versus stereo sound. Which sounds better? Stereo, of course. And with two hearing aids, properly adjusted to meet the differing hearing needs of each ear, you enjoy a better quality of sound.
In simple terms, the world sounds better in stereo.
Improved Hearing of Soft Sounds
A soft sound may go undetected by one ear but picked up by the other ear – the one closer to the source of the sound.
Your ability to hear the soft sounds that you’ve always taken for granted is greatly improved when you go bilateral because both ears are amped to the proper level to hear even the soft whisper of a loved one – and that’s something that you just can’t put a price tag on.
Buy one hearing aid and you’ll find yourself constantly turning your head so the aided ear picks up soft sounds or hears through background noise. With that single hearing aid, your hearing is out of balance and not only will your ears be straining, but so will your neck due to constantly turning to hear what’s going on around you.
The natural state of binaural hearing is hearing with both ears in balance. An audiologist or hearing aid professional can adjust each hearing aid to fit your hearing needs, delivering hearing balance and a much improved listening experience.
The Listening Experience
It’s something that happens every day, though it’s so natural that we take it for granted. However, there are numerous studies conducted by hearing researchers that clearly show that bilateral hearing aids deliver a more satisfying, natural listening experience.
Talk to your hearing professional about options. The best course is the one that delivers the most satisfying listening experience – the listening experience that you’re used to. The one you’ve enjoyed all these years.
In the case of hearing, your decision shouldn’t be based purely on cost, though cost is usually the first (and most important) consideration for newcomers to the world of improved hearing through technology.
The fact is, the extra money you spend on a second hearing aid will be forgotten in a matter of a few days. But the benefits you enjoy from quality, binaural hearing will be with you each and every day.
So, indeed, factor in the cost of one hearing aid versus two but don’t let that be the deciding factor. Hearing is a quality of life consideration.
And you want the best hearing experience you can get, regardless of cost. So, spend the extra few bucks to get improved localization, hear-through sound that’s natural and organic. Get back your ability to hear soft sounds or sounds in higher frequency ranges and skip the stiff neck syndrome that a single hearing aid creates as you turn your head throughout the day to hear.
Go bilateral and get back into life. Hear the way nature intended you to hear – with two ears. The cost, when weighed against the benefits, is insignificant.
You’ve got two ears. Might as well use them both to hear the world around you. After all, you don’t want to miss a single sound.