by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A man asked:
Is anything that can be done about poor discrimination (word recognition) besides learning techniques for coping with it? I have worn hearing aids for many years but have never received a plain answer to that question.
There’s really not all that much that can be done for poor discrimination besides learning how to best cope with it. Here are some things that may help though.
1. Poor discrimination is often the result of not being able to hear the higher frequencies well, or at all, since most of the “intelligence” in speech resides in the higher frequencies. If you can still hear the high frequencies somewhat, then having hearing aids and/or assistive devices that are specifically adjusted to amplify these higher frequencies to your optimal level will help. So will using high-fidelity sound equipment. The better the quality of the sound, the better we can understand it—even with our poor hearing.
If you cannot hear the high frequencies at all, then using a frequency-transposition hearing aid may help you by shifting sounds down to the frequency range you can still hear. Some people have good success with these special hearing aids. There are a couple of companies that make these hearing aids. Perhaps the best known is the Sonovation line of ImpaCt frequency transposition hearing aids, but most Widex hearing aids now also have this feature. Widex calls it the “Audibility Extender”.
2. Amplification technology can only go so far. When it can’t help anymore, then getting cochlear implants will very often remarkably help improve your discrimination (and hearing too of course). When hearing aids can no longer significantly help you, this is the next logical step to take.
3. As far as coping strategies go, speechreading used in conjunction with your hearing aids can also remarkably improve discrimination. Studies have shown that when used with hearing aids, speechreading can push your discrimination back up around the 80% level. Finally, if all else fails—use real time captioning—then your discrimination is essentially back to 100% (assuming, of course, that your captionist can hear the speaker accurately).