“I only need to wear my hearing aids when I go out” is one of the worst things you can think or do for yourself once you have made the decision to wear hearing aids.”
The majority of our hearing is done in the brain and not with our ears, this is why it is so important to constantly expose the brain to sound through the use of hearing aids. Yes, that is correct—the majority of our hearing is done in the brain. The ears pick up sound and deliver it to the brain. When hearing loss is present the brain is deprived of sound at a normal level (auditory deprivation). This becomes “normal hearing” to the person with a hearing loss but it is not normal hearing. The brain needs to be consistently exposed to sounds at normal levels to put them into different categories as it once did. We are RETRAINING THE BRAIN to hear again at normal levels. Unfortunately, you will never hear as well as you did when you were a teenager and the hearing loss cannot be “cured” but the hearing will be significantly improved.
Some people with hearing loss feel that their hearing is fine while they are at home or that they do not need to hear while reading their paper or watching the television. They feel it is not important to hear the furnace or air conditioning running, footsteps on the floor, people moving around in the house, etc. Actually it is very important to hear these subtle sounds. As you hear more amplified sounds you build a tolerance to the louder volume levels of sound which help the amplified sounds seem more natural. More exposure leads to optimal performance with hearing aids. This is all done by the brain automatically without people being aware that it is happening.
Hearing loss is not only present when you go out into the noisy world. It may be more noticeable when you are in more demanding listening environments but the loss is always there. If a hearing aid wearer only wears the hearing aids occasionally, the brain has no idea what to do with all of this newly introduced noise and stimuli. This can be overwhelming and cause people to reject their hearing aids saying, “All I hear is noise”. If sound is introduced on a regular basis by wearing the hearing aids consistently, it will be more acceptable when background noise is introduced. When the hearing aids are not worn consistently the brain reverts back to the hearing loss mode which puts hearing aid wearers back to where they began—having trouble hearing. Consistent hearing aid use will help to eliminate this over-stimulation effect and sounds become very normal again. We are immersing the brain with the new sounds, desensitizing it to the extraneous sounds, and allowing it to focus on listening to more important things like speech.
This whole process does not happen overnight. The more consistently hearing aids are worn, the faster all sounds, both background and foreground, will become more natural. The amount of time this process can take will vary for everyone. For this reason, wearing the hearing aids regularly throughout the day is critical to “HEAR” the best you can in multiple situations. There is no magic number of hours that are given to suggest that the hearing aids be worn throughout the day but they should be worn as much as possible. It is recommended to wear hearing aids all the time; except when you are sleeping, having your hair done, swimming or when in a dangerously loud environment. Be patient and give your brain a chance to adapt to all of the wonderful sounds of life!!
By Molly ConRoy, Au.D