That’s the question.
And the answer is……I don’t know. When do we persevere with something and when do we say “whoah, something not right here”? I’ve written two previous posts on other aspects of this dilemma – I Give Up and Don’t Give Up (you can see I didn’t reach a conclusion then either) but this is specifically about hearing aids. More specifically, perhaps, about new hearing aids.
Persevering with new hearing aids is something everyone says we should do, and they are right. They are difficult to get used to. It is a shock to the poor old brain to suddenly get this STUFF coming through the new aids and to be told it is sound. “No, it isn’t”, the brain says, “I remember sound and it wasn’t like that at all”.
“Well that’s all you are going to get”, says another part of the brain.
So the “ears” brain makes the best of it and gradually sorts the STUFF out so it slowly starts to sound, well, more like sound. (People with good hearing seem constantly surprised when I tell them that wearing hearing aids is not like wearing glasses to correct sight – you don’t get back to 20:20 hearing – you “hear” more sound than you did before but it’s not how you remember it).
It can take the brain quite a while to adjust, hence the need to persevere in wearing your new hearing aids so that the brain gets a decent run at it.
I’ve mentioned before that I used to work in retirement housing and encountered many people who had hearing aids. Unfortunately, they were often not in their ears. They were in their bedside tables, or handbags, or cupboards because “they don’t help”. I would chat to them about my own experiences and try to encourage them to have another go. To be honest, I adapted quickly to my first hearing aid (twenty odd years ago) it was the advent of two aids (maybe three years later) that I found really hard. Having one in both ears really flummoxed me. Actually it was worse than that – I hated it. My own voice sounded very strange and as if it was coming somehow from the centre of my head rather than in through my ears – rather as if I had a very bad head cold. Other sounds were different too. I remember one day trying to run a team meeting – not hearing my voice properly and not hearing their voices properly. I got so frustrated I ripped the left (newest) aid out, sighed deeply, explained to people what was going on and coped with just the one ear in play.
Audiologists are right, though – you have to give it time. After a couple of months of persevering (I did persevere, honestly) my brain got used to the double-entry situation and everything sounded normal again. I’m sure learned PhDs are written on this subject of the brain’s accommodation, but I don’t understand the science. I just know it works. So – persevere……
BUT, sometimes perseverance doesn’t work. Here’s another story. About five years ago I needed new hearing aids. My previous ones were about eight years old. I was coping well with them, but my audiogram (hearing graph) was showing its usual continual deterioration and the aids were starting to fail just because of their age. An audiologist fitted me with new, stronger ones. The sound was immediately AWFUL but I was encouraged to give it time and, mindful of what had happened in the past, I was happy to do that. Perhaps I should explain what awful meant. It was really very loud, which isn’t necessarily a good thing (clarity is what you want, not volume). Background noises (by which I mean anything that isn’t speech, speech being the thing I am trying to retain) boomed and roared. The sound of people talking to me got lost amidst a deafening (excuse the pun) cacophony. I went back to Audiology and the audiologist made some adjustments, but it was no better. I should persevere for longer, he said. He explained that my hearing loss was now so severe that these hearing aids were the absolute best that could be done and (he put it slightly more politely) I would just have to get used to it.
But I couldn’t, because it was dire. I tried, I really did. I felt low. I’m not the sobbing sort but my eyes sometimes got wet. Eventually, I went back to the hospital again. I explained that I could understand speech better with the hearing aids I’d had before. Surely something was wrong. At the worst, could I please have the old type back? I was seeing a different audiologist. She went off to speak to a manager and then returned to offer me a new option, something I’d not been offered before. These (Phonak Nathos SPW) were light years better (for me) and I have had them ever since. My limited understanding of how they work is that some high pitched sounds (for which I am profoundly deaf – I can’t hear them no matter how strong the amplification) are reconfigured into lower pitched sounds (that I can hear) and my brain (hurrah for brains) manages to translate them into something intelligible.
The point is this, though, in this second case I was right to trust my instincts, stop persevering and start pressing for something better.
So perhaps that’s the only answer to the question (to persevere or not to persevere with new hearing aids). Persevere for a respectable amount of time and then, if there’s no improvement, trust your instincts. Maybe there IS something else that could be done.
As a postscript, telling this tale has made me ponder again the differences between NHS treatment and private treatment. Years ago, the NHS referred me to the private sector. I needed digital aids but, at that time, the NHS was not routinely providing them. Because I was working I was able to make use of the Access to Work programme and they and my employer jointly funded two digital hearing aids (on an 80:20 split as I remember). I stayed with the private sector audiologist until just before my retirement. On the whole the service was identical and I am largely very happy with my return to the NHS, but the private audiologist had recourse to a much wider selection of hearing aids than a typical NHS Trust. When I needed an upgrade she would encourage me to test out more than one model until I found the one I was best suited to. That’s what the NHS lacks, in my experience, customer choice. What have YOU found?