Empowering Consumers with Product Knowledge about Hearing Aids

This is part of a series of articles I have written about hearing aids. The published work can be seen on my Scribd Page. This one is from 2008 and appeared in a regional London newspaper.

Have you experienced that feeling when you want to say something but are scared that you might make a fool of yourself? This could occur if you have been criticised many times or received negative experiences from people, or that you pick up other people’s emotions without realising and become the only person in the room who responds to them.

         Has this ever happened to you? Is this a familiar feeling that you first experienced in the classroom at school?  Perhaps you remember when a quiet spoken person seated at the back of the class piped up, the teacher replied and a whole discussion erupted in the room, but without hearing the original comment you cannot pick up the thread of conversation and get left out?

         I am sure these early experiences happened much more frequently then anyone admits as there is still a stigma attached to having less than perfect hearing.

         Due to the sophistication of our brains we learn at a young age to adapt and be able to follow the flow of conversation with even medium hearing loss, often via reading body language or acquiring the ability to lip read. Hearing loss is measured in decibels and accounts for the average level of hearing which is measured across frequencies from the highest pitched to very low sounds. Mild hearing loss starts at 25 decibels and severe hearing loss goes up to 95 decibel hearing loss before you reach deafness.

         I am not trying to sell you a hearing aid, but I am telling you that the one I bought changed my world instantly at the age of 30. I was also very lucky that I was told by an understanding hearing aid dispenser about hearing technology that would actually make a difference so I could ask for the right instrument that suited me and then bypassed the risks of being oversold something on my lack of knowledge. It is the knowledge that I have acquired that I would like to share with you.

         Firstly, go back to the examples I gave in the work meeting and the classroom and see if you recognise the experience.

         Secondly, do you find at parties that it is hard to make out what people are saying to you across a dinner table or in a crowded room and it gets frustrating as other people seem to be getting along fine?

         Thirdly, do you find you do not know what to do about it and don’t know where to start looking for answers or who you could trust to speak to about it? Have you looked on the Internet or called up a company and got the sense that they are trying to sell you something expensive that seems risky to buy because there are no guarantees that it will give the desired results?

         That is understandable.

         My fourth hearing aid was the first one that I could wear and not feel cut off from the world, disorientated and distracted by artificially amplified background noise. This hearing aid was analogue programmable In-The-Ear (ITE) with a manual directional microphone and Telecoil switch and it totally solved the difficulties I had at parties when I always ended up standing on my own because I had asked someone to repeat something so many times that they had eventually said: ‘I’m just going to the toilet, I’ll be back in a sec,’ never to see them again.

I now have a digital programmable in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid with a directional microphone and Telecoil setting which I bought from the same dispenser, Alan Aaronson, as the previous successful one.

         One main point is both were value for money to me, costing just under £1,000 which is not expensive for a hearing aid as they can be priced at thousands of pounds each.

         The advantages it gave me were; being able to hear what people were saying in many situations in which previously I couldn’t; to be able to follow and join in group conversations, to enjoy myself at parties, to follow and participate in workshops and seminars, to complete customer transactions on the phone without having the phone slammed down on me, to pronounce words correctly and hear how people say things instead of trying to say it all from scratch myself and, very importantly, to have corrected my slurred speech (so I don’t get excluded from nightclubs). Having a hearing aid made me acceptable enough to be able to get a fixed salary in an office of people where I could be promoted and prove myself.

         You might already have all of that, but you might relate to some of these experiences. I have 50 decibel hearing loss which is half way between hearing and being deaf. However, now there are times at parties or in business meetings in loud environments when I am at an advantage over hearing people to follow what is going on and not be distracted by background noise!

         I get benefit and value from my hearing aid and it is comfortable and no one can see it as it sits in my ear canal. It is a programmable which means it is set to correct my own particular hearing loss and boost the volume of sounds that I want to hear such as human speech and not to amplify unwelcome and distracting noises like a lorry reversing or cutlery crashing on a plate. As it is programmed to my particular hearing pattern that means sound selection is orchestrated by my brain and not by the amplification, which makes the sound natural and the earpiece comfortable to the point I can’t feel it in my ear.

         My hearing aid is also digital and takes advantage of the superior sound quality now on offer, and digital hearing aids have more power than analogue ones.

         This information is useful as a purely digital hearing aid which is not programmable might give you excellent sound quality but it might take longer getting used to, especially in a behind the ear hearing aid as dispensed by the NHS.

         A very important point about hearing aids is that, like what you see or do not see, your brain actively selects what it wants to hear and people with severe hearing loss or lack of eyesight start to compensate. One way of doing this is your brain learns to anticipate what it thinks someone is likely to say and sometimes you hear something completely out of context which can be highly amusing.

         A programmable hearing aid whether it is digital or analogue is a prescription taken from your audiogram in the same way that spectacles or contact lenses are made to fit your eyeball shape and correct your eyesight. Unfortunately there are plenty of people selling hearing aids who do not know or tell you this and are happy to sell you a complicated piece of technology that is not customised to your requirements.

         Similar to Blair Hill in the book Think and Grow Rich by his father Napoleon Hill, a hearing aid can change someone’s world from one of struggle and exclusion to a new one filled with opportunity.

         If you have any sense that your hearing is not as good as it could be it is worth going to a high street shop where you can get a hearing test and see if you could benefit from a hearing aid. Currently, in Cornwall, free hearing aids are only given to those aged 55 and over. The most important thing to do then is to compare their answer with your own research from this article or from the Internet, books such as the one mentioned in the previous paragraph and via the websites of BUPA and via objective websites that provide information about hearing loss.

Here are some Internet references to get you going. If you don’t think so already, I promise you that hearing is an interesting subject for us all and it might be useful information for yourself or for a friend or family member and you can make a big difference by finding out more about it.

Hearing Aid Resource for Consumers – Ear Info

Starkey – Find the Best Hearing Aid For You – the story of Starkey, a hearing aid company started by a man with hearing loss.

RNID – Facts and Figures about Hearing Aids

About Dr Ross, a hearing aid wearer of over 50 years and writer – Hearing Research

3 now obsolete resources (great domain names) http://www.hearinghealth.com – like HearingResearch.com and http://www.thehearingaidcouncil.org.uk

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