Do you know someone who is new to hearing loss? Maybe they haven’t yet accepted that they have a hearing loss, or maybe they are just starting to acknowledge it, but don’t know what to do first, or second. I know some people like that, myself included, at one point. I wish someone had shared a road map with me as I started off on my hearing loss journey. What are the right steps to take medically? emotionally? practically? Here are my tips.
Please share this road map with those you know who are at the start of their hearing loss journey. It may also help redirect people who have taken a wrong turn or two along the way.
Determine The Type Of Hearing Loss First
The most common type of hearing loss comes on gradually and is caused by aging or noise damage to the sensory hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear. But there are other types, so it is important to get a proper diagnosis from a doctor at the start. Is it something structural that can be corrected surgically? In most cases, no, but you won’t know unless you ask. Did the hearing loss occur suddenly? If so, go immediately to the doctor or emergency room. The quicker you get help, the better chance you have to save some or all of your hearing. Is there a family history of hearing problems? Be sure to have that information with you for your appointment.
For an initial assessment, you can see your primary care physician or a doctor who specializes in hearing or related fields. At your visit, the doctor will examine you physically and will perform a hearing test (or send you to an audiologist for the test) to determine the degree of your loss.
Find The Right Audiologist
If you have a hearing loss, the right audiologist can be a true partner in your care. Finding the right one, however, is sometimes easier said than done. You should choose someone who you feel understands your specific hearing needs (i.e., is your primary concern to hear better at work, with your family, at the theater), is a good listener, and is willing to discuss a wide variety of hearing assistance options. Some hearing aids work better with different types of hearing losses. I prefer an audiologist that offers many different brands of hearing instruments to widen my options. You may want to get an audiologist recommendation from a friend or a trusted doctor, or you can read reviews online before setting up an appointment. If the first audiologist you see does not seem right for you, try someone else. A good personal fit is important.
Try A Hearing Aid (or Two)
The good news is that all reputable hearing aid dispensers will allow you to try a hearing aid for 30 days or more before completing your purchase. If this is not the case at your facility, move on to some place that offers trials. The bad news is that trying a hearing aid can be a frustrating process. The first one you try might not be the right one for you, or even if it is, the settings might need to be adjusted several times before you find the right balance.
Don’t be surprised if you feel that you are actually hearing worse with the hearing aids during the early days of the trial than you do without them. This is normal and makes sense since it takes time for your brain to acclimate to and organize all the new sounds. If after a few days, things have not improved, go back to the audiologist who will adjust some of the settings. Keep a record of what is and is not working to help guide the adjustments. This process is iterative and may require multiple visits to the audiologist to fine-tune things. If things do not improve during the course of the trial, your audiologist may recommend trying a different type of hearing aid instead. Think of it as being a little bit like love — you may need to kiss a couple of frogs before you find your hearing aid prince.
Keep in mind that there is no such thing as 20/20 hearing. Hearing aids will help you hear better, but they are not like glasses. Your hearing will not be restored to the way it was before you had hearing loss. You can read more about that here. Having reasonable expectations will help you stay positive as you work through the kinks.
Talk To Others With Hearing Loss
This can be difficult if you don’t know other people with hearing loss, but your doctor or audiologist may have a patient or two that would be willing to talk to you. You can also look online for local chapters of hearing loss organizations like Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I avoided reaching out to others with hearing loss for years, but talking with others in the same situation can be incredibly helpful. Finally, there is someone who understands what you are experiencing. Don’t assume, like I did, that everyone with hearing loss is cut from the same cloth. Hearing loss impacts people of all ages and stages and walks of life.
Be Open About Your Hearing Loss
This one can sting for some people, if they are not ready for it. I know, because it took me 10 years to come out of my hearing loss closet, but the sooner you come clean, the easier life will become. Being open will help you accept your hearing loss. It will allow you to ask for the help you need and improve your interactions with those that you love. Without all the pressure to hear everything perfectly, you will begin to enjoy social gatherings more and maybe even learn to laugh a little when a misunderstanding occurs.
Readers, what suggestions do you have for those who are new to hearing loss?