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  • Writer's pictureDavid Engelman

How to Get the Most Benefit from Your Hearing Aids

Updated: 6 days ago

Group of men enjoying conversation, getting benefit from hearing aids.

Congratulations! You’ve made the big decision to go ahead with hearing aids and have recently come home from your fitting, wearing your brand-new devices. Getting hearing aids can be exciting and a bit overwhelming. They’re something new to add to your daily routine and will certainly take some time to get used to. If you purchased your hearing aids through the private sector, they’re also a significant investment, and you’ll want to ensure you’re successful with them. There are a few things to keep in mind when wearing hearing aids, to help you obtain as much benefit as possible from them.

What are the factors for success with hearing aids?

Assuming your hearing aids have been prescribed, fitted, and optimised appropriately for your hearing loss and unique needs, the below additional considerations will help you hear your best.

Let’s consider these now in more detail:

1) Learning the basics

An image demonstrating learning the "basics" of hearing aid use.

This might be stating the obvious, but it is critical that you have a good, solid understanding of how to use your hearing aids daily. This should be covered as part of your hearing aid fitting appointment, but it can be a lot of information to process in a relatively short time. It is quite common to need a refresher or two as you’re getting settled into your routine with your new hearing aids. This can usually be covered during one of your follow-up appointments, where your audiologist will be checking to see how everything is going with your hearing aids. Your hearing aids will also usually come with an instruction booklet, and I would recommend having a read of this after your fitting appointment, while everything is still fresh in your head.

The most crucial basics to master when getting new hearing aids would be:

a) Changing/charging the batteries

If your hearing aids use a standard zinc-air battery, it is important that these are inserted into the battery compartment properly, with the positive side (the flat, shiny side of the battery) facing upwards. If not inserted correctly, the hearing aid will not work, and the hearing aid could also be potentially damaged. How often the battery needs to be replaced, will depend on the specific battery your hearing aids require. This will range from anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. If you’re unsure, ask your audiologist, as they can usually give you a good estimate of battery life for your hearing aids.

If your hearing aids are rechargeable, then you need to make sure the hearing aids are placed properly inside the charger every night before you go to bed. It is critical that the hearing aids are placed the correct way around inside the charger, otherwise they will not charge. The instruction booklet will often have a picture demonstrating this, but if you’re not sure, best to check with your audiologist. Doing this will usually provide more than enough charge for a full day’s use of the hearing aids.

b) Putting the hearing aids on properly

It can take a bit of practice to learn how to put on your hearing aids, and some models can be a bit trickier than others. The method for proper wearing of hearing aids will vary based on the type and style of hearing aid that you have, and your audiologist will practice this with you during your fitting appointment. If the hearing aids are not seated within the ears securely and properly, it will affect their sound quality and greatly reduce the benefit you could be getting from them. They are also much more likely to whistle (what we would refer to as “feedback”) if not fitted properly into the ear. There is also much greater risk of losing the hearing aids if not worn correctly. If you think there’s a possibility that you may not be wearing your hearing aids the right way around, I recommend that you contact your audiologist to have a review of this.

c) Replacing the filters regularly

If you are using either a receiver-in-canal (RIC) or in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid (these are the two types of hearing aids fitted most in the private sector), then they usually will have a small filter that protects the speaker of the hearing aid from earwax and other debris. This filter can become blocked very easily, which will cause the hearing aid to sound as if it is not working. The filters should be replaced at least once a month, but some people may need to replace them more frequently, especially if they get quite a regular build-up of earwax. If your hearing aid is not working, and the battery has been replaced, then I would recommend changing the filter before trying anything else. Most often, this will resolve the problem. The procedure (which once you are practised at, will only take a few seconds) for changing the filters will be shown to you during your fitting appointment, but I find that this is something people often forget about and may not remember how to do. The filter is usually changed with a small disposable tool, which will be provided to you when you first get your hearing aids. The specific tool/filter that you require and the method for changing it will vary depending on the hearing aid manufacturer so be sure to double check with your audiologist about this.

It is quite common for mishaps and misunderstandings to occur with some of these essentials of hearing aid use, especially while you are still getting used to making a daily habit of wearing them. This can lead to a lot of frustration and disappointment, as there can be a sense that the hearing aids are not working, or not working as well as one would have hoped. It is therefore critical to always rule out possible concerns regarding these basics when troubleshooting any problems with your hearing aids.

2) Consistent use

Example of someone using their hearing aids consistently, even when not having a conversation.

Hearing aids really need to be worn on a consistent basis to truly benefit from them. This is because we really hear with the brain, rather than the ears (this is something you’ll probably see me repeat quite a bit in my articles). The ears take sound to the brain for processing. When you first begin to wear hearing aids, the brain suddenly becomes overwhelmed with sounds that it hasn’t heard properly in a long time. This can be quite overwhelming and can sometimes sound unnatural, and it can take some time to adjust to this. Over time though, with consistent use, the brain begins to adapt. It learns what sounds are important and need to be focused on, and what sounds can be tuned out and allowed to fade into the background.

Many people are tempted to only wear their hearing aids in situations where they feel they “need” them. Often this will be in more challenging environments, such as going to a restaurant, or a family gathering. The problem with this, is that the brain is essentially relearning how to hear through a hearing aid each time the hearing aids are put back on. This can lead to a sense of feeling like the background noise overpowers the conversation that you are trying to hear. This is because the brain hasn’t adapted properly to hearing aids and is focusing more on the distracting noises that it is now suddenly hearing, rather than the conversation at hand. I would always recommend, therefore, that a patient wear their hearing aids pretty much from when they wake up until they go to bed (with a few exceptions, such as when bathing). This would apply even if you were home on your own, not talking to anyone or listening to anything. There is always going to be some ambient sound around you, which the brain needs to hear and process so that it can learn what sounds are important and what sounds are unimportant. With time, the brain will get better and better at this, and you will start to notice increasingly more benefit from your hearing aids.

3) Regular Maintenance

Tools, signifying hearing aid maintenance.

This follows on from the previous point I discussed of changing the hearing aid filters regularly. Replacing the filters is just one aspect (a very critical one) of the regular maintenance that hearing aids require. Many receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids will also use a dome (a small piece of rubbery plastic that sits on top of the hearing aid speaker and goes inside the ear), and these need to be replaced regularly as well. They also should be wiped clean, ideally every night before you go to bed, with a dry cloth or slightly moist wet wipe. If you use a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid, then the hollow tube that the sound travels through will need to be replaced at least every 6 months. It is also a good idea to be familiar where the microphones of your hearing aid are situated (your audiologist can show you this), as these can sometimes get clogged with dirt and debris. I would recommend giving the microphones a gentle brush (often a small brush and cleaning tool will be included in your hearing aid package) every so often to ensure they are staying clear and working their best. Some hearing aids can be more susceptible to moisture than others, and this can also vary based on the individual patient’s ears. There are times where it may be recommended to store your hearing aids in a jar with a desiccant inside to absorb excess moisture. There are more advanced devices you can purchase that can help remove moisture electronically. Your hearing aids should also be regularly checked and serviced by your audiologist. Usually about twice a year is sufficient for most people. This is to have the hearing aids deep cleaned and checked to ensure everything is working optimally.

4) Realistic Expectations

Man and woman talking, perhaps discussing realistic expectations with hearing aids.

A potential barrier to hearing aid success that I often see are the expectations of a patient on what a hearing aid can do. It is very important to understand that hearing aids will not restore your hearing to a normal level. While not a perfect comparison, to illustrate my point, I often compare using a hearing aid to using a walking stick. The walking stick can help someone with a mobility impairment move in their environment more easily and comfortably, but it will not eliminate the actual disability. Hearing aids, although very high-tech instruments, can be thought of in a similar way. They are there to help you and make your daily life easier but will not eliminate every hearing and communication challenge you may have. Hearing aids with more advanced technology may be better at helping you manage conversations in more challenging environments, but even with the most advanced, expensive hearing aids available, you may still find that you struggle a bit more than someone who does not have any hearing impairment. This is because the hearing aids are still bringing sound through a damaged auditory system, and this can affect the clarity of sound, even when the sound is theoretically “loud enough” for you to hear. This can also vary greatly between individuals and can depend on several factors that are beyond the scope of this article. A comprehensive audiological assessment can often help predict (although not perfectly) some of the challenges you may still face, even while wearing hearing aids, and your audiologist should be able to discuss these with you. That of course isn’t to say that hearing aids won’t still significantly benefit you and make your life much easier and more enriching, but I do always want to set some realistic expectations with my patients prior to a fitting. This will help avoid disappointment, and to allow them to appreciate the success that they do have with their hearing aids.

5) Getting additional help

Woman reaching out to man, signifying getting additional help with hearing aids.

For some patients, hearing aids alone won’t always be enough to maximise their ability to hear and communicate. Often, the use of accessories to be used in conjunction with a pair of hearing aids will be recommended. The accessories can help bridge the gap that some people still find they have regarding speech understanding for different situations, even while wearing their hearing aids. Common examples would be watching television, telephone calls (both mobile and landline), and hearing in background noise and in group conversations. While not necessary for everyone, there are times where the use of an accessory can really help improve those situations if you still find them difficult while using your hearing aids. If you struggle at your job, you may be able to have these accessories funded through UK government schemes such as Access to Work. There are also many other devices that can be purchased that work independently of your hearing aids, such as special alarm clocks, baby monitors, and smoke detectors. A great resource for equipment like this can be found at Connevans. If you are concerned about your safety at home due to your hearing loss, it would also be worth contacting your local council to see if they can arrange an assessment of your home, to help determine what equipment may be important for you to have.

It is also helpful to become an advocate for yourself and make people aware of your hearing difficulties. It is always best if people face you and minimise distance when speaking to you. Tell people you know that they should try and get your attention first, before beginning to speak to you. And while you can’t control every environment that you’re in, it is a good idea to reduce as much background noise as you can. All too often, people get into bad communication habits, that lead to strife and frustration. A common example and complaint are that someone’s spouse or partner may try and speak to them from another room or speak to them with their back turned towards them, often while doing other noisy things, such as the washing up. This would make it difficult for anyone (hearing impairment or not!) to hear, but if you have a hearing loss, it will be that much more difficult for you, even if you’re wearing hearing aids.

Some final thoughts

I hope that the above suggestions, tips, and considerations to remember will help you achieve as much success as possible with your hearing aids. Hearing aids can’t eliminate all your hearing challenges, but they will certainly make your life easier and less effortful. If you are using your hearing aids properly, maintaining them regularly, and keeping realistic expectations in mind, then you can be sure that you are receiving optimal benefit from your devices. If you still have concerns about how well you’re hearing or are unsure about anything, then it would be worth having another conversation with your audiologist about this.

If you'd like to learn more about the kind of hearing care we provide for our patients at Finchley Hearing, please explore our website and feel free to get in touch with any questions.

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