Updated: Jan 13, 2021
I have been reflecting recently on three cases this year where I have seen customers who have tried to manage for years with their declining hearing ability, well beyond the usual 2-3 years that normally separates noticing a problem and going for a test.
A variety of ages have presented, but the main connecting factor is the length of time since they started to notice the problem, and their current age (70 something to late 80’s). These people ignored their hearing loss for a decade or more, some have recently acquired NHS aids but don’t like them, and when we do the test and the home trial, it has been the same issue again and again. Not much benefit from the aids. Benefit yes, but not enough.
Normally, if you take someone who has NHS aids or no aids, and give them a pair of the top of the range private ones to test-drive, the response is “Wow”. They *are* Wow, if you are used to something basic, perhaps badly set up, perhaps hasn’t been adjusted for years.
These folk are noticing the new aids are clearer, but the benefit is muted, and in noise hearing is still an issue. There is still a pause before they answer your question. And in the end, you have to be honest and tell them/their spouse/well meaning child who has set up the appointment, that there is not going to be a Wow moment for them. I predict percentage improvement if pressed. I am quite sure the customers assume I am a terrible audiologist and go elsewhere after I have left, but I have never seen any point in giving unrealistic expectations.
So what is happening here? Why are this select percentage of people getting only an ‘OK’ response from the amazing tech on offer?
It is because there are two ends to hearing. One end is the equipment: the ear; canal; drum; bones; cochlea and wiring. The other end is the processing, which happens in the specialised brain area called the Auditory Cortex. You might at one point have said ‘pardon’, then a second later thought ‘no, I did hear that!’. That’s the processing time, and the younger you are the quicker it is, usually. The hearing equipment and the brain work together to collect and interpret the sounds you hear and turn them into a received set of words. If you deprive your brain of the correct speech input for years, when you finally do return it with a hearing aid the processing may not be capable of making sense of the words. Or at least not enough to keep up with conversation.
It is a real thing, and there is a real, tangible requirement for you to aid your hearing as soon as it becomes beneficial to do so, especially if you are advancing in years. It really is a use it or lose it thing, and once the damage is done you may not be able to make use of the glorious technology that is out there, no matter how much money and time you dedicate to it.
Today’s hearing aids are incredibly discreet, and no one is watching you, looking at your ears to see if you got hearing aids! No one cares! They all have their own worries.
NHS aids or private aids, either of them will keep the pathways and processing in tip top shape. Likewise if you only wear one aid but have a loss on both sides, please reconsider aiding the better side. There will come a day when it can’t be aided any more. Being someone who takes time with rehab work, I do not tell people it is too late without even trying, because I have had suprising successes. Mainly with young/middle aged people but even so I think it is worth trying two aids at any stage of the game to see if we can get them both online.