You’ve done it! You’ve taken the scary leap and shelled out the money and are now sitting at home thinking, oh dear God, what have I done. Ok not really, but you’re probably sitting at home thinking “Damn that refrigerator is annoying” because with those handy hearing aids, you’re hearing it for the first time.
Hearing aids are a difficult decision for many, partly because of cost, but mostly because in today’s world we believe that to admit fault is to show weakness. Let’s be clear right now about something, if you have a hearing loss it takes a lot of courage to push forward and get help, let alone ask for help. I mean it. It. Takes. COURAGE!
I waited a good 10 years to finally ask for help and when I got it I was terrified, shaking in fear as I was fitted for my first pair of hearing aids (a pair of disastrous Siemens that were poorly programmed and incorrectly fitted). Yet three months later in March, when I was fitted properly with Starkey Halo’s, it was like a whole new world opened up for me.
But as I entered that whole new world, I recalled some challenges my first pair of my hearing aids had presented. Some were because I’d never worn hearing aids before and some were ridiculous notions I created myself. Hey, I’m only 24. And I’m a girl who was raised with the judgmental views propagated by binge-worthy shows like Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill. In short, I blame CW.
Anyways, here are four honest truths (and tips) for new hearing aid wearers to help you move past the awkward “Was this the right decision?” phase and into the incredible, “I have hearing aids. Hear me roar” phase.
(1) Sounds Suck At First: When you have hearing loss your ears lose the ability to pick up certain frequencies and your brain consequently loses the ability to accurately process the sounds and speech associated with them. As frequencies are returned to you with hearing aids, sounds you forgot existed rush back like an oncoming wave and can at first be extremely overwhelming. Some are downright annoying or painful.
Truth: It takes time to re-learn how to hear certain sounds again, and for a while some sounds will be too loud, too harsh, annoying and even cringe worthy.
Tip: Give it time. You’ll adjust, but you gotta stick with it. Also, avoid crinkling plastic water bottles, being near emergency sirens and high-definition action movies for the first two weeks (this sounds seriously suck if you’re brand new to hearing aids).
(2) Your First Programming Isn’t Necessarily Your Last: Hearing aids are programmed for your specific hearing loss by your hearing professional, and the first time you wear your hearing aids, the programs are most likely set at the higher volumes needed to replicate your lost frequencies.
If you are lucky like me to have Halo hearing aids, well the first programming might be the charm. I had two incredible professionals working all day to make sure the hearing aids functioned based on both my hearing loss and the way I liked to listen. And while their efforts are largely responsible for my perfect programming, it’s the TruLink hearing app that rounds it out. Trunk enables me to make my own volume and sound quality adjustments through my iPhone in a matter of seconds. Too loud, turn it down. Too soft, turn it up. Easy, fast, accessible hearing health control with my index finger? Check!
But for those of you who may not have Halos, don’t worry if you end up returning for programming changes. That’s normal! Your ears are adjusting to hearing sounds again and it takes time for your ears and brain to work with the hearing aids and find that hearing-comfort sweet spot.
Truth: Getting your hearing aid programs just right takes time, both on your end with adjusting to hearing sounds and using the hearing aids, and on the hearing technology end, with adjustments over the first couple of months.
Tip: Be honest about your listening perceptions! If you don’t like the way a program is running, tell your hearing professional. They can’t fix what they don’t know about. One of the best ways I do this is to keep a hearing aid journal where I jot down any issues or problems I have with my hearing aids and their programs. Then if the problem is ongoing I go right to my hearing professional and say “Dude, fix this thing! I want to hear tinkling wind chimes not clashing symbols when I watch Cinderella.”
(3) Prepare for Instant Popularity: Remember in high school when you watched the pretty popular girls with blonde hair and fancy Prada purses? No? Me either. But prepare to be that popular for the first few weeks after you get your hearing aids. Hearing aids profoundly impact your life and the lives of your friends and family, so when you get them, people are going to ask questions, want to see them and just generally be really obnoxious about them. Here’s how it typically goes down by the type of person asking the question:
- The Vain One: “What do they look like? Can I see them?” Me: Yes of course. (Hands over tiny hearing aids.) V: “Wow! They’re so tiny.” Me: (Inwardly groan at person’s ignorance and put hearing aids back in ears) Yeah dude they’re smaller than my running head phones. V: “You can barely see them on your ears! I thought they’d be ugly, but they look like headphones. Wow!”
- The Tech Geek: “So what all can they do? I mean their powerful right, like it’s 2.4GHz technology, so it’s basically miniature computer.” Me: Yeah…probably better if I just show you. (Spend 20 minutes showing said geek all the cool features of Halo + TruLink: streaming, geo-tagged memories, etc.)
- The Monitors (Family/Loved Ones: “Are you wearing your hearing aids?” Me: Yes, I am. (Returns to watching movie). M: “Well you didn’t hear me when I asked you to get the phone so I wasn’t sure.” Me: (hide Cheshire Cat grin) Oh no, I heard you, I just chose to ignore you.
- Other People With Hearing Loss: “Hey I (or my dad, mom, etc.) has hearing loss, would those work for them?” Me: Probably, depends on their hearing loss. I can connect with someone if you want. PHL: “Umm, ok, sure.” Me: (sigh and think: Just do it dude, life is so much better with them.)
Tip: Just go with it.
And finally, my favorite truth, though it’s more of a blessing than a truth.
(4) You’re Part of Something Bigger: When you have hearing aids and embrace your hearing as the nifty (sometimes annoying, sometimes wonderfully useful) disability that it is, you realize that you’re not alone. In fact, about 48 million Americans have reported some degree of hearing loss.
Truth: You’re part of a really great, widespread, global community united by problematic ears.
Tip: Find more people like you and don’t be afraid to randomly say hi to someone you see on the street, at the gym or in a store who’s got hearing aids on! Heck I do it all the time, including when I’m at a New Year’s Eve gala with my boyfriend. Embrace it, it’s gonna make you powerful when you do.