Question: Are hearing aids the real answer to help me hear better?
Answer: That’s a good question. Obviously, hearing aids help us hear better by making sounds louder to compensate for our diminished hearing. That is their primary purpose and they do quite a good job of it too in many cases. However, hearing aids do several other things too such as processing sounds and attempting to filter out undesirable noise. Perhaps one of the lesser-known, yet vitally important things they do is to compress sounds to fit our reduced dynamic hearing range. This means they increase the volume of soft sounds, yet at the same time, automatically limit the volume of loud sounds so they don’t hurt our ears.
For example, when I listen to classical music without my hearing aids, the volume appears to vary dramatically. When only the strings are playing I often don’t hear a thing. However, if I turn the volume up to hear these fainter sounds when the whole orchestra fires up that volume hurts my ears. As a result, it is very hard to enjoy such music. However, when wearing my hearing aids, they amplify the soft sounds so I can hear them and at the same time limit the loud sounds so I can bear them. The result is that I enjoy listening to music much more with my hearing aids on.
However, you must realize that as good as modern hearing aids are, you need to remember that they are still only aids to better hearing. They do not restore hearing to normal. Hearing aids are far from perfect. At best they typically only restore your hearing to the equivalent of a mild loss. Many first time hearing aid users don’t like the unnatural sounds they now hear, nor do they like all the noise they now have to try to hear through. This is not so much the fault of the hearing aids as it is of our faulty ears.
You see, when we lose our hearing to some degree or other, strange things happen to our ears at the same time. One of these is that we lose our ability to filter out extraneous noise like we used to. Another is that we no longer hear as clearly as we used to. To us sounds are now “fuzzy”. This means that we often cannot distinguish between two words that are similar in frequency—for example “sun” and “fun.” Generally the worse our hearing loss is, the fuzzier our hearing becomes.
Therefore, we need more help than just the amplification that hearing aids give us. You must realize that hearing aids alone are not the total answer. You need to combine the help you get with hearing aids with other coping strategies. One of the most effective coping strategies is speechreading. (Lip reading was the old term.) With speechreading the words “fun” and “sun” are relatively easy to distinguish by watching the persons face. For example, I may hear the “un” sound and speechread the “s” or the “f” sound. Then my brain puts the two together and I understand what was said.
Hearing aids alone also only let you hear (and understand) a fraction of what is said. The same is true with speechreading. However, put the two together and wow!
In one study, University of Manchester researchers found that hard of hearing people just using their residual hearing understood 21 percent of speech. If they combined their residual hearing with either a hearing aid or with speechreading, they could understand 64 percent of speech. This is a significant improvement. However, if they used their residual hearing and both hearing aids and speechreading, their speech comprehension soared to 90 percent!
Obviously, the better way to communicate is by combining wearing hearing aids and speechreading. Don’t expect hearing aids alone to solve your hearing difficulties. If you do you will be sadly disappointed. However, if you have realistic expectations of what your hearing aids can and cannot do, and combine that with other effective coping strategies, including speechreading, you will thank God every day for the blessings that your hearing aids bring you.