by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.

One lady asked:

I have a sensorineural hearing loss, severe in the upper registers and moderate in the lower. I’ve worn hearing aids for about 20 years. My hearing aid dispenser tells me that I must wear my hearing aids all the time, except for sleep or bathing–if I don’t, my ability to discriminate speech will deteriorate. No one ever told me this before. Is it true?

Theoretically it is true, but in actual practice, it is pure baloney. That is a hearing person talking, not a hard of hearing person who has had years of experience with this. Some people, by choice, put their hearing aids on when they get up and refuse to take them off until they go to bed. My younger daughter is one of these. I am exactly the opposite. I’ve worn hearing aids for 50 years now. Most of the time, I don’t wear them. (I enjoy the silence.) In fact, I wear my hearing aids only when I really need to–and that is often less than 2 hours a week.

By your dispenser’s reckoning, my discrimination should be close to 0% by now–yet my discrimination is still 80% after more than 50 years of never wearing my hearing aids all day. (With a severe loss, you are not going to have perfect discrimination by any means–so 80% is good in my case.) How does your dispenser explain that my daughter’s discrimination is similar to mine, even though we have such different hearing aid habits?

The lady continues,

I always wear my hearing aids at work, and when I’m with other people, but once I get home I take them out and enjoy the peace and quiet (and relief for my itchy ears). If I want to watch TV or listen to the radio/music I use headphones. If I’m truly damaging my comprehension I’ll wear the hearing aids more, but I’d prefer not to.

If you lived in silence most of the time, theoretically your auditory circuits would begin to atrophy. However, you get plenty of auditory stimulation in all the hours you wear your hearing aids, and then even more hours wearing headphones. You are getting way more auditory stimulation than you need to keep all your auditory circuits working properly.

I sure wouldn’t worry about the discrimination thing. Besides your ears need the down time to make up for all the amplified sounds they endure. They get tired of all that noise and need the rest in order to remain healthy.

Thus, as long as you get adequate auditory stimulation–and you do–you don’t need to worry about wrecking your discrimination from not wearing your hearing aids.

You are doing the right thing for your ears. Don’t let any hearing person scare you into thinking otherwise! Hearing health care professionals can give the “stupidest” advice at times.