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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Hearing aids

05/11/1998

Question:

What are some of the psychological effects you have encountered from first time hearing aid users?

i.e. Resistance to use, Adjustment factors, Family support, Age at onset, etc.

Answer:

This will be a long answer to a short question. But the issues this person raises are critical to the satisfactory adjustment of the new hearing aid user. I hope that these comments will be helpful.

It is interesting to hear person's reactions to the idea of wearing a hearing aid. The comments vary widely from eager anticipation to total rejection. Those people who look forward to their new hearing aid are generally people who understand how much they are missing in day to day commnication, and are willing to do anything to get "back in the game." They don't mind how a hearing aid might look, and know that the financial costs outweigh the social costs of not hearing. Persons who do not look forward to a hearing aid are generally those who are "sent" by their families who are burdened by the person who is not hearing, or are worried about how much they see the hard of hearing person missing. The difference seems to be who is initiating the visit.

Other reactions have to do with how individuals cope with their perception of hearing loss and the associated social stigma. In years past hearing loss was considered to be a problem of the elderly, and younger persons feel stigmatized. Another social stigma resulted from the old time perception that persons with hearing loss were not as "bright" as others. Fortunately people now realize that both perceptions are false; that hearing loss is common among younger persons as well, and that persons with hearing loss are normal in every other respect. It is sometimes necessary to help people who need hearing aids to deal with their self image.

When getting a new hearing aid it is usually necessary to have to go back to the audiologist to fine tune the setting. Modern hearing aids have an enormous number of possible settings because they are computer chips that can be programmed. This allows thousands of possible combinations of settings. The result is that your hearing aid will probably need adjusting before it works optimally for you.

Another consideration is that people who have had a hearing loss for some time need a while to re-adjust to hearing again. We have a fancy name for this called "acclimatization." It means simply that it takes time to re-acclimate to hearing. The adjustment may be complete in a few weeks, but for some it may take some months before the nervous system adjusts to being stimulated in this new way. The important thing for new hearing aid users to do is to stay with their instrument, do not give up too quickly and you will adjust. If you cannot adjust to amplification go back to your audiologist, perhaps some change in the hearing aid will make it more acceptable.

Finally, the family can help by being understanding about what the person is experiencing. Hearing aids are not new ears, they are an aid. They will not be perfect, just as your glasses aren't perfect, and they may not do well under certain circumstances. Be patient and supportive. It will help a great deal.

Robert W. Keith, Ph.D., FAAA; Professor of Otolaryngology; Division of Audiology;University of Cincinnati Medical Center

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Response by:

Thomas A Tami, MD Thomas A Tami, MD
Professor of Otolaryngology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati