The #1 Mistake Most Hearing Aid Owners Make

Hands down, the best piece of advice I can give any hearing aid owner is that their devices need to be worn full time, meaning at least 12-16 hours per day or all waking hours.

 

Ask anyone that has had their hearing treated at my practice and they’ll tell you that I’m fanatical (in the nicest possible way) about full time hearing aid use, it’s really, really important! Apart from bathing, swimming and sleeping, the more your devices are in, the more beneficial they’ll be in the immediate and long term. Yet, a surprisingly high number of Australians that own hearing aids don’t wear them adequately. We’ll discuss why this occurs, what can be done about it and the benefits of full-time use.

A Major Study

In a major study on 13,591 Australian hearing aid owners published in 2015, Dr. Anthony Hogan found that approximately one third of hearing aid users don’t wear their devices at all or less than two hours a day, one third wears them only 2-12 hours per day and only one third wears them 12+ hours a day, the necessary timeframe for the benefits you’ll soon read about. I’m not advocating that this lack of device use is in any way acceptable or advisable, the fact is, under use is a real thing. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

So why are hearing aids so frequently destined for the top drawer? I’ve found the following three trends show up regularly in my practice:

Hearing Aid owners simply weren’t told. Perhaps the Audiologist that fitted the devices, was short on time, has a company restricted schedule or wasn’t across the benefits of full-time use? Not a week goes by that I explain the benefits of full time use to someone that has purchased them elsewhere and it’s as if the first time they’d heard it. It takes time, effort and persistence to encourage full time use and frequent checking of the inbuilt databases that all todays devices have. In my opinion, advising and checking on full time use it is the most important thing your Audiologist can do.

The initial acclimatization period was not fully completed. On average, it takes 7 years of struggle for Australians to address a hearing problem (we now know that’s seven years too late, but that’s another story). Whether its 3 years or 30 years delay, hearing loss has generally been around for a long time before it is dealt with. When we do address it and finally fit hearing aids, there’s much to get used to and it’s an adaptive process. Like a muscle that hasn’t been exercised, the neural pathways take time to strengthen. The brain also needs to ‘relearn’ to filter which sounds are useful and which are not, this resetting of the filters simply takes time. For most people, 7-10 days of 12-16 hours of use at conservative settings does the trick, sometimes adjustment is needed. It’s a personalized process depending on the degree of loss, how long hearing loss has been around for, personal preference and loudness tolerance. The early stages are the most challenging, but they are a crucial aspect of success, everything tends to get better from there.

The devices are not comfortable enough for full time use. If they’re not comfortable, they simply won’t be worn sufficiently. Normally the physical fit can be improved substantially in experienced hands. Loudness and noise reduction settings can also be made to be more comfortable in most cases, provided the technology level of the hearing devices allows it. Sometimes the look of the devices makes the wearer uncomfortable wearing them in all situations, a matter that can often be addressed with more cosmetically acceptable devices.

The benefits:

In the absence of encouragement for full time use, insufficient acclimatisation or if the devices are uncomfortable; too often hearing aids are left in the top drawer or treated like ‘reading glasses’ and put on only for conversation. Our sense of hearing is completely different to vision, the full benefits and value can only be experienced with full time use. For instance, reading glasses can assist with short sightedness which is an inability to appropriately focus at the eye level. The ability to focus on what you want to hear occurs at the level of the brain, not at the ear. Wearing hearing devices on a part time basis creates confusion because it is challenging for the brain to learn to focus at varying volume levels.

Another benefit of full time use that is attracting recent research attention is the reduced risk of falls that occurs when hearing loss is treated. Untreated hearing loss has been shown to result in a 300% increased risk of falls for 40-69 year olds, even at mild levels. Researchers have cited two main reasons for this, the first being environmental awareness. With untreated hearing loss, you’re less likely to hear that thing you’re about to trip on, that step you may miss or that bike or scooter whizzing past when you’re out for a walk. The second reason they cite is the sheer mental resources taken to compensate for hearing loss leaves less attention for steadiness and balance. Falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions, and 40% of all nursing home admissions 40% of those admitted do not return to independent living; 25% pass away within a year. As alarming as these statics are, they are an underestimate as many falls go unreported. Separate to this, a major cause of falls in the elderly is when they get up to answer the phone. Some of the latest hearing aids integrate to cell phones and are handsfree which could help prevent that happening. Falls can happen at any time; full time hearing aid use essentially nullifies the increased risk that comes with hearing loss.

When you think about it, you can’t turn your natural hearing levels on and or up and down. If you, or someone you care about owns hearing devices, know that 12-16 hours per day is critical to success and to maximise the value of these modern marvels. If comfort is an issue, let your Audiologist know. Indeed, we’d love to help you get back on track.

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