1. I’ve been told I have Nerve Damage and that hearing aids can’t help. Is this true?
Nerve damage is also known as sensorineural hearing loss. The inner ear hair cells have been damaged due to noise exposure, aging, ototoxic drugs, or genetic causes. Sound is not being transmitted properly from the inner ear to the brain. This is a permanent condition because the inner ear hair cells will not grow back.
People with hearing loss usually complain of hearing people, but not understanding them. The problem is usually worse when they are in a noisy environment. When the hearing loss is gradual, the spouse, family member, or friend will notice before the person does.
Hearing Aids are the only alternative for this disorder. Before digital technology, hearing aids would make everything louder and not necessarily clearer because the aid would amplify all sounds the same. Digital technology has given promising results due to the advanced processing of the computer chip. The hearing aids can be programmed precisely to an individual’s hearing loss. If someone has a severe loss in the high frequencies and mild in the low frequencies, then we can amplify the high frequencies more. Depending on the manufacturer of the hearing aid, there will be more or less channels to adjust. On some hearing aids there are extra features such as noise reduction, which takes a constant sound like an air conditioner and compresses it so it does not interfere with speech. Also a dual-microphone system will reduce noise that is behind you so that you can understand what is going on in front of you, like in a restaurant. With at least 10 manufacturers of digital hearing aids, there should be at least one that will be right for your hearing loss.
2. I’ve been told that I have a hearing loss and the longer I go without wearing hearing
aids, the worse my understanding will get. Is this true?
Yes! Hearing loss occurs between the frequencies of 250Hz and 8000Hz. Each frequency represents areas where speech signals are located, either vowels or consonants. Understanding of speech occurs in the brain. If it is not “hearing” a certain speech signal, then it “forgets” how to process it.
• The brain develops a “sound vocabulary” from sounds of words and noises that you have heard throughout your life that have been stored in your memory. When a part of your hearing is lost, the corresponding part of your brain is no longer stimulated. It will now be used for some other type of activity that provides stimulation.
• The longer the brain is deprived of speech, the longer it will take the brain to be able to re-familiarize itself with the sounds. The old saying, “If you don’t use it, you will lose it” is a perfect analogy.
• Once a hearing aid is used for a hearing loss, your brain will need a period of time to adjust. At first, your brain will not make much use of the sound information, but over the next several weeks it will gradually start to use it again.
• Ability to understand words will come with repeatedly hearing them. Your brain must relearn to connect the sound with its meaning.
3. Hearing aids don’t sound normal. Why?
Most hearing loss is gradual and your brain is slowly deprived of the stimulation of the sounds around us. Your “normal hearing” is with a hearing loss. So your brain is “startled” by the sounds it hears with the hearing aids.
After being fit with hearing aids, you may feel:
• “My voice sounds too loud.”
• “I cannot tell how loud I am talking.”
• “Things sound too sharp or tinny.”
• “I have a hard time identifying what some sounds are.”
Just like the couple that moved into the house that was next to the airport. The first few weeks they heard every airplane that flew overhead. After that, the only time they noticed the sound was when someone else would point it out. The same will happen with the hearing aids. At first the sounds will sound amplified or artificial. As your brain begins to reacclimate itself, the sounds you hear will become normal sounding to you. This is also when you will notice your understanding is improving. Before this, the people around you will notice your improvement before you because they do not have to repeat or speak louder.
Depending on the individual, the hearing loss (the sooner you start the easier the process), and level of technology used (the better the aid the more comfortable the sound will be), are all variants to how long this process takes. The range can be anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks.
The key to being successful with hearing aids is patience and self-motivation. A patient once told us that she “felt like a bird out of a cage now that she could hear and participate in life.” Hearing betterwill increase your quality of living!