Why Should Wearing Hearing Aids Require A Steady Hand?

I recently took part in a usability study for a large hearing aid manufacturer. I always enjoy doing consumer focus groups related to hearing aids and other hearing technologies. The more feedback we as users provide to the manufacturers, the more likely it is that they will meet more of our needs in the future. Usually I get a sneak peek at a new app that is under development or an innovative feature that is to be added to a company’s hearing aid, which is also fun.

This study was different. It focused on manipulating and cleaning three different behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids. Since I have never regularly used a BTE hearing aid — I always have used ones worn in the ear canal — it was all new to me. During the exercise, I learned to put on and remove ear pieces, and take off, replace and clean plastic tubing and domes. Simple activities, but they were not easy to execute. I quickly learned that wearing this type of hearing aid requires a very steady hand.

Living With Hearing Loss | A Hearing Loss Blog

I consider myself fairly dexterous, but in performing the various tasks, I dropped the pieces a few times and had trouble lining up the threads on the device and detached tube in order to screw one piece onto the other. Cleaning the tube with the thin wire provided for this task was also tough, requiring several attempts before I did it right. And, yes, I was wearing my reading glasses for all of it!

The interviewer leading the study also struggled while demonstrating certain of the activities. It would have been comical if it weren’t so sad. If I, a relatively young and healthy hearing aid wear was having trouble manipulating the devices, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the elderly, let alone someone with tremors or Parkinson’s disease. This needs to change.

Adjustments in hearing aid form factors have typically trended towards making the aids smaller, which I understand from a vanity and comfort perspective, but usability must be equally important, otherwise the devices will end up unworn in a drawer, helping nobody. I am pleased that this seems to be a concern for the hearing aid company sponsoring the study.

With the advent of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing devices, perhaps this will all change. In the consumer products arena, earpieces are often large and quite visible. They are also usually easy to manipulate, with few small pieces that need frequent cleaning. I welcome the day when there are a wider variety of choices available to people with hearing loss, making hearing devices accessible for all people, regardless of their physical capabilities.

Readers, do you have trouble manipulating your hearing devices?

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22 thoughts on “Why Should Wearing Hearing Aids Require A Steady Hand?

  1. Shari,

    Yes…BTE hearing aids (their parts) are NOT easy to clean/manipulate, especially for older, less agile individuals.

    Yes, with the introduction of OTC hearing aids, this problem might be alleviated.

    I recently started wearing the BOSE Hearphones device…simple and elegant…easier to clean and sooo much more user friendly…not to mention…great for noise reduction, when in crowded, noisy rooms.

    There are no little tubes to clean…just simple, soft (perhaps silicone) ear buds. There’s the neck loop, which is easily wiped off with a cloth.

    i’m able to control volume and bass/treble, with an iPhone app…easy peasy…unbeliveable!

    I never thought that I’d be touting the purchase and use of such an ALD (assistive listening device), but, it’s really changed my quality of life for the better…and..it only cost me $499! My $6,000 hearing aids are now sitting in a box…haven’t used them since December 2018.

    Keep in mind..the BOSE Hearphones is only for folks with mild or moderate hearing loss (although, I have severe hearing loss in my right ear and I’m still able to benefit from using the device).

    Bose is supposed to release their actual OTC hearing aid, some time this year…can’t wait to try it.

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  2. My now 90-year-old mother had been wearing hearing aids and was able to tend to them for many years. Now, however, she has dementia and cognitive decline. We’ve retro fitted her aids to be plugged in and charged rather than replacing batteries every few days so that’s been helpful. In addition, there are these tiny filters which need to be changed as well. Her home aids and my father aren’t really keeping up with this type of maintenance and I don’t live very close. What I do is arrange a home visit from her audiologist/assistant to change and maintain every few months and there’s a cost to doing so. Also, as an fyi, my mother had lost two new aids before we finally put the new ones in a holder with a collar clip. This is a strong suggestion to people whose loved ones may lose track of their aids.

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  3. I wear mini BTEs. My first pair of hearing aids was difficult to manipulate; I had to use a pair of jewelers’ pliers to replace the tube, all the while thinking “is it just me having trouble with this?” My audiologist confirmed the difficulty everyone had with that particular brand. It is much easier with my current pair, although care must be taken to line up the threads properly, I can’t imagine doing this if I had any kind of tremor, though.

    I sit on the bed when doing tasks like this in case I drop one.

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  4. This is an important issue. The relationship between dexterity and hearing ability is inverse. The elderly are most likely to need hearing aids and are least able to use and maintain them properly. Failing vision is also an issue. Towards the end of my father’s life, he called me to say that his hearing aids were broken. I was away at the time and had to drive two hours to investigate. When I arrived I saw that the problem was simply that he had put the batteries in backwards. He was also unable to properly clean them. I did train a staff member in his residence to clean the aids and change the batteries. But as Susan Berger mentioned, there is a cost for this service, one that some may not be able to afford.

    On another occasion, after speaking on the phone with a 90 year old cousin, I was very concerned about possible dementia because of disconnected responses he was giving. However, when I visited him, I discovered that his hearing aids were clogged with earwax, but that his brain was perfectly in tact. Although he was his usual brilliant self, he could not see the wax or manipulate the aids and tools needed to keep them clean.

    Jon Taylor

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    • Great points.
      So true.

      Hearing loss is inversely proportionate with cognitive function.

      I have suggested the use of an ALD , like BOSE HEARPHONES, because, the device is simple to use.

      It does not require high level, fine motor skills, or visual acuity.

      Provided that hearing loss is mild-moderate, this device is an elegant, much less expensive alternative.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Shari, I would love to join a focus group in my area, do you have any recommendations? I live in Los Angeles, Cal.

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  6. The other hindrance as we get older is arthritis. Sometimes that hits before you are older. Your hands and fingers can be in considerable pain making it hard some days to just change batteries. We have come a long way since my first hearing aids but there is still room to change and improve. I love the idea of the Bose Hearphones but my loss in one ear is profound and it is profound in several ranges in the other ear. I use cros/bicross and can correct speech recognition in the “ good ear” enough so I don’t yet qualify for cochlear implants. We all need to keep fighting the fight…thanks for all the good info and discussions

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  7. I’ve often joked that HA and CI manufacturers believe that, just as blind people are sometimes compensated with more acute hearing, so those of us with hearing loss are given the manual dexterity of oral surgeons. I wear two cochlear implant BTE processors. They require me to change the mic protectors on a regular basis. These are tiny pieces of plastic less than 2 milliliters sq.. The manufacturer affixes them to a plastic strip that enables a very steady hand to place them into the mics on the processor. If the hand slips, or more often, the adhesive that holds the protector to the plastic strip does not let go, the user is left looking for this tiny black piece of plastic on a table top or the floor. If the user is lucky enough to find it, he or she has to try to pick it up with a finger tip and hope that it can be inserted correctly into the mic. Since this often fails, the user throws away $12.50 and starts the process all over again. I am so grateful for your thoughtful blog.

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  8. Hi Shari

    Interesting observations. It’s not much easier with larger, more standard size hearing aids. Mine are larger (severe loss) and have ear moulds connected by clear tubing to my BTE aids..

    Around every six months or so this once soft flexible tubing becomes hard and inflexible and affects sound quality, such as it is and needs to be changed.

    So using a pair of pliers the tubing has to be pulled out of the mould and a new one fitted. Doing this is a real chore.

    The old tube is never easy to pull out and requires a fair bit of effort. Then getting the new one in takes more effort to pull through the hole in the mould.

    I sometimes wonder whether it would be easier to wear the body worn style of hearing aids where the cord plugs into the aid and receiver and the receiver simply clips on to the ear mould.

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  9. My clients get a letter during their birthday month inviting them to come in for a free hearing aid check-up. At that time, I take care of any tubes or domes that need replacing/cleaning. If necessary, I review “how-to” with the client.

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