Most often when people lose their hearing it’s a gradual process that occurs over many years. Because of this it’s normal to get accustomed to hearing fewer sounds in the environment and to forget about many of the sounds that are part of everyday life.
Sounds such as the microwave beeps, the turning of pages of a book, the rustling of your clothing, footsteps, the sound of your car engine or the clicking of the indicators, a clock ticking and the birds outside are some of just a few of the everyday sounds that you have probably not heard properly for some time.
What happens when I start to lose my hearing?
When you gradually start to lose your hearing, the parts of the brain that usually processes these sounds is no longer being used. The old saying of ‘use it or lose it’ is very true when it comes to hearing. If these parts of the brain are no longer receiving input, due to hearing loss, then they are rewired and used for other inputs. Think of your ear as a piano keyboard. When your hearing is normal all of the keys are functioning and when you play the keys you hear a sound corresponding to the pitch of the keys you just played. You can hear this because the part of the brain responsible for hearing is also organised like a piano keyboard and the signal reaches the part of the brain set aside for those keys just played as it also has the same keyboard layout.
Let’s say however that some of the keys no longer work in the ear. So when you play these keys nothing happens. This means that the keyboard in the brain now also has keys that are no longer being used. If nothing is done to restore the hearing levels to make these sounds audible again then over time the parts of the brain no longer receiving hearing input will be rewired and used for something else.
Getting used to hearing again
Often when people first start to wear a hearing aid some sounds may not sound natural and in some cases even annoying. But don’t worry because as your brain receives all the sounds you are hearing now it will rewire itself over time to make room for the extra sounds you are now hearing again. This takes time however and the more you wear your hearing device and the more your brain receives all the extra sounds you hear, the quicker this will happen. If you only wear your hearing device occasionally then it will take much longer for this process to happen. The brain must receive this extra input in order for it to make room for it again. Remember that you probably lost your hearing gradually and over many years without realising it so it will take a little while to get used to hearing everything properly again. But if you are patient and persevere then the results will be worth it.
Tips for success with your new hearing device
- Be patient! It can be overwhelming to suddenly hear everything again and come to the realisation that the world is not as quiet as you thought. But remember that you are not hearing anything any louder than those around you with normal hearing. It will take time for your brain to remember all these sounds again and learn to ignore them once more.
- Wear your hearing device as much as possible so that you can get used to hearing everything again. Start off with a few hours a day around the house and get used to hearing all the extra sounds here first. As you become used to your hearing device around the home then start to wear them in more challenging listening situations, such as in a shopping centre, at a restaurant or café, in the car, or other noisy environments. The first few times may be difficult but it will get easier as your brain gets used to the extra noise and learns to focus on what you want to hear and not so much on the other background sounds.
- Keep a diary. Write down anything that you feel is not quite right with the sound from your hearing device. Include as much information as possible such as where you were and what you were listening too and also what the problem was. Your audiologist can make many different adjustments to your hearing device so providing them with as much information as possible ensures they make the correct adjustment for you first time. In some cases it may not be an adjustment to the device that is necessary but just simply getting used to hearing certain sounds again. Your audiologist will be able to advise you based on the information you provide.
- Talk to your audiologist if you feel something is not right. So many people tend to give up and put their hearing devices in a drawer rather than tell their audiologist about issues they are having. It’s important to have an open and honest relationship with your audiologist so that any issues that come up can be resolved quickly.
- Attend your follow up appointments. Even if you feel that everything is going well it’s important to attend any future appointments made by your audiologist. Your audiologist may make some subtle changes to further improve your access to sound, provide additional programs for specific listening situations based on your initial experiences or may use this appointment to focus on communication strategies for you to use in more challenging listening environments. They may also recommend specific assistive listening devices that can be used with your hearing device, in situations where using your hearing device alone is not enough.