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Guide to better hearing

Personal Education

STEP 3 – Personal Education: Learn All I Can About My Problem

The most effective remedy for hearing loss is personal education.  You need to learn all you can about your particular loss.  To begin, you will need to know:

  • What is the type of hearing loss I have?
  • What is the degree of loss in my left and right ears?
  • How has my brain been affected?
  • How do hearing aids bridge the gap?
  • What can I do to improve my hearing?

What type of hearing loss do I have?  (Your hearing professional will provide this information as indicated by your hearing test.)

The types of hearing loss:

  • Conductive hearing loss: Sound isn’t conducted properly from the outer or middle ear to the  inner ear.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss:  The inner ear is unable to properly transmit sound to the brain.  The hair cells inside the inner ear (especially those for high frequency hearing) have withered due to age, noise or medications, and no longer pick up sounds properly.
  • Mixed loss:  This is a combination of a conductive loss and a sensorineural loss.

How has my brain been affected?  If you have lost your hearing gradually over time, then your brain has been slowly starved from stimulation in the sound frequencies you no longer hear at normal volume.

So, when you first begin using hearing aids, your brain will be startled to receive signals it has been missing.  Until it becomes acclimated to these sounds, you will think to yourself…

  • Everyone’s voice sounds odd to me.
  • My own voice bothers me.  It sounds like I am speaking into a barrel.
  • The hearing aids are noisy.  Unless I go into a quiet room, they pick up all sorts of distracting noises.
  • Will this condition improve with time?

Here is a simple example of how your brain will categorize sound and acclimate itself over time.  A beautiful house in a wonderful old neighborhood was for sale.  But what about the railroad track just beyond the alley?  The prospective couple was promised by the realtor that the train came by twice each day, but that they would never hear it.  “Just ask any of the other neighbors who had lived in the neighborhood for years!!”  So the couple bought the house and moved in.  For the first few nights they were awakened at 2:15 in the morning as the train lumbered by.  Then, after several weeks in their new home, a friend came for an overnight visit.  At breakfast the guest asked, “how can you sleep through the noise of that train?”  “Funny you should mention it,” the couple said.  “We never hear it anymore.”  Did their hearing change?  No, the noise became a familiarpart of their environment and their brains categorized it and became acclimated to it.

Because you haven’t heard normal sounds and noises for a long time, wearing hearing aids will be like moving into a new house.  At first, the sounds amplified by your hearing aids will sound tinny, metallic, artificial and unnatural.  But, this is because you are hearing the high frequency sounds (like /s/, /f/, /k/, etc.), you have been missing, or have heard differently for years.  This unnatural sound quality will actually improve your speech comprehension — but only if you stick with your new hearing aids until your brain has a chance to adjust.  And with practice and time, your brain will adjust.  Hearing and understanding involve more than the hearing organ.  Your hearing is a complex function which requires the cooperation of the brain and your other senses.

Understanding occurs in your brain, not in your ears.  Reacclimating your brain to true sound is a little like priming a pump; you’ve got to stay with it long enough for the water to flow.  Once it is flowing – and it will flow – the hardest part is over.

  • From early childhood the sounds of words and noises are conveyed to the brain to gather visual images of things.  This information is stored in memory compartments which are your “sound vocabulary.”
  • When you lose part of your hearing, the corresponding part of your brain – which now has no input from your ear – volunteers that brain-part for another assignment.
  • After a time of not hearing, the brain will need a period of time to become familiarized with the high frequency sounds of speech and environmental sounds.  This is the hardest time for a person who begins using hearing aids.
  • When you begin using hearing aids, your brain will make little use of the new sound information for five to six weeks, then gradually it will start to use it.
  • The ability to make instant association depends on repeatedly hearing a word.  If you do not hear a word for a long period of time, difficulty connecting the sound to its meaning occurs.

“Auditory Confusion” is caused by the flood of authentic sounds, noises and voices which suddenly break into your consciousness after not being heard for years.  These are sounds which will again become a part of your subconscious once your brain hears them on a daily basis through hearing aids.  For example:

  • The true pitch of your telephone ring.
  • The sound of your clothes rustling as you walk.
  • The woosh of your air conditioning vent or “hum” of your refrigerator motor.
  • The crackling and popping of the pages of the newspaper.
  • The whir of your computer.
  • Your ability to hear, then associate these sounds with their meaning, will increase with practice.

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