Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,
My 68-year-old mother has become hard of hearing, but refuses to even look at hearing aids. She says that she cannot afford them, but I have offered to help pay for the hearing aids. She thinks that hearing aids will not help enough to justify the expense. How can I convince her otherwise?
Advice Falling On Deaf Ears
Dear Advice Falling on Deaf Ears,
Some people do not want to accept the fact that they have hearing loss. They may be in denial because they associate hearing loss with aging or a disability. In addition, people may not want to wear a hearing aid because they think it will make them look old. Hearing impairment can happen to anyone at any age, including newborn babies.
Talk to your mother about the positives of getting a hearing aid. It will improve her quality of life and broaden her ability to interact, communicate, and understand those around her. The technology of hearing aids is improving all the time, and some hearing aids are almost invisible.
If your mother will not listen to you, then maybe her doctor can persuade her. Your mother should be evaluated by her physician in order to investigate the cause of the hearing loss and rule out a medical condition such as infection, injury, or blockage by ear wax. After her examination, her doctor may refer her to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, or to an audiologist who will measure the hearing loss and assist in hearing aid selection and fitting.
Hearing aids can be expensive with prices ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on whether one or two devices are needed. However, in some states, if your mother qualifies, Medicaid will pay for the hearing devices.
If your mother needs hearing aids, there are two reports to review.
1. American Academy of Audiology at www.audiology.org, "How to Purchase Hearing Aids."
2. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders National Institutes of Health at www.nidcd.nih.gov, "Hearing Aids"
In brief are some points about hearing aids from these two reports:
Using hearing aids successfully takes time and patience. Hearing aids will not restore normal hearing or eliminate background noise. Adjusting to a hearing aid is a gradual process that involves learning to listen in a variety of environments and becoming accustomed to hearing different sounds.
FOUR MAJOR HEARING-AID STYLES
1. BTE: Behind The Ear fits over the ear and is connected to a plastic ear mold that fits inside the outer ear. The components are held in a case behind the ear. BTE aids are used by people of all ages for mild to profound hearing loss.
2. ITE: In The Ear is custom made to fit entirely in the ear and used for mild to severe hearing loss. ITE aids can be damaged by earwax and ear drainage, and their small size can cause adjustment problems and feedback.
3. ITC: In The Canal is custom made to fit within the ear canal for mild to moderately severe hearing loss. ITC can also be damaged by earwax and ear drainage.
4. CIC: Completely In the Canal is the least visible and is custom made to fit down deep in the ear canal for mild to moderate hearing loss. CIC can also be damaged by earwax and ear drainage.
THREE MAJOR ELECTRONIC TECHNOLOGIES
1. Analog/Adjustable: These are the most basic hearing aids. They typically provide "linear" signal processing where soft, average and loud sounds are amplified equally. Patients can turn the volume up or down. This type of circuitry is generally the least expensive.
2. Analog/Programmable: The audiologist uses a computer to program your hearing aid. Because this signal processing automatically adjusts volume, many of these hearing aids do not have a volume control.
3. Digital/Programmable: This is the most current level of technology available. The audiologist programs the hearing aid with a computer and can adjust the sound quality and response time on an individual basis. Digital circuitry provides the most flexibility for the audiologist to make adjustments for the hearing aid. Typically the most expensive.
QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE BUYING HEARING AIDS
1. Are there any medical or surgical considerations or corrections for my hearing loss?
2. Which design is best for my hearing loss?
3. What is the total cost of the hearing aid?
4. Is there a trial period to test the hearing aids? What fees are nonrefundable if they are returned after the trial period?
5. How long is the warranty? Can it be extended?
6. Does the warranty cover future maintenance and repairs?
7. Can the audiologist make adjustments and provide servicing and minor repairs? Will loaner aids be provided when repairs are needed?
8. What instruction does the audiologist provide?
9. Can assistive devices such as a telecoil be used with the hearing aids?
What Problems Might I Experience While Adjusting to My Hearing Aids?
1. Become familiar with your hearing aid. Your audiologist will teach you to use and care for your hearing aids. Also, be sure to practice putting in and taking out the aids, adjusting volume control, cleaning, identifying right and left aids, and replacing the batteries with the audiologist present.
2. The hearing aids may be uncomfortable. Ask the audiologist how long you should wear your hearing aids during the adjustment period.
3. Your own voice may sound too loud. This is called the occlusion effect and is very common for new hearing aid users. Most people get used to it over time.
4. Your hearing aid may "whistle." When this happens, you are experiencing feedback, which is caused by the fit of the hearing aid or by the buildup of ear wax or fluid. See your audiologist for adjustments.
5. You may hear background noise. Keep in mind that a hearing aid does not completely separate the sounds you want to hear from the ones you do not want to hear, but there may also be a problem with the hearing aid. Discuss this with your audiologist.
TIPS FOR TAKING CARE OF MY HEARING AIDS
The following suggestions will help you care for your hearing aids:
1. Keep hearing aids away from heat and moisture.
2. Replace dead batteries immediately.
3. Clean hearing aids as instructed.
4. Do not use hairspray or other hair care products while wearing hearing aids.
5. Turn off hearing aids when they are not in use.
6. Keep replacement batteries and small aids away from children and pets.
For more information on hearing aids, see www.audiology.org and www.nidcd.nih.gov