This week’s post is a guest post by my husband! Andrew got hearing aids for the first time in December 2015. Today he is going to share with us some of his experiences of the whole process. He uses a behind the ear hearing aid – Oticon Spirit Zest.
Although he is an adult, and we usually write about children here, we thought hearing about his experiences may help others, whether other adults or parents of children going through the process of getting hearing aids. I will hand over to Andrew.
How and when did you realise that you weren’t hearing as well as you should?
I think I probably have had mild hearing problems for all my life or, at least, since early teenage. When I recognised that I couldn’t hear as well as others, particularly when there was background noise, I tended to blame it on earwax build up. When I was about 30, I told a doctor I was having hearing problems and so had my ears syringed. A nurse asked me whether things sounded louder straight after. She was obviously expecting me to say Yes but I said No. However, I still wasn’t referred for the proper hearing test that even then I thought I should get. In recent years, Helen noticed that I wasn’t hearing her as well as I did at the start of our relationship. Our optician was advertising free hearing tests so I booked one. I wasn’t expecting the tester to be a sales rep for a hearing aid firm so I was suspicious of the result, especially as he didn’t test the ears separately, but his conclusion – that I had hearing loss of higher frequencies which affected my ability to hear some speech as well as I should – was correct, as was confirmed when I finally was referred to an NHS audiologist.
What did you find difficult before getting the hearing aids?
I hated chatting over coffee after church services because there was a constant babble of chatter that made hearing the person I was actually talking to, at best an effort and at worst impossible. And yet I was often one of the youngest there.
Talking to children about what they had been reading during the Summer Reading Challenge is, for me, one of the best parts of working in a library but, with their high, quiet voices and lots of background noise, I increasingly struggled to understand what they were saying – I bluffed well, but I knew I had a problem.
Helen says my mobile was rubbish for sound but there was no point in trying to speak to me on it. I used it for texts only.
I never wanted to turn up the volume louder on the TV but, when I was on my own, I would often switch on subtitles.
What were your first impressions of hearing with hearing aids?
I was expecting having hearing aids go in to be like having earphones go in but they went in far further. They slid in very smoothly, so it wasn’t uncomfortable but it felt intimate, invasive and a bit gross, the way I imagine inserting a suppository feels. There was an immediate increase in “white noise” but the audiologist assured me (correctly) that my brain would adjust and I would soon not notice that. When I spoke, my voice was amplified. This initially caused me to feel self-conscious about the way I was speaking and I sought reassurance that my speech was still at a normal volume. It was a relief to hear more clearly but there was also an unsettling weirdness to hearing inside my head in a different way. No listening with headphones had prepared me for that.
What were the first few days of wearing hearing aids like?
It felt awkward trying to fit both hearing aid and arm of my spectacles between ear and head. I settled on putting glasses on the inside.
When vehicles passed me there was a sound like shingle on the beach. I don’t know whether that was from the “wash” of air or the sound of the vehicle but I didn’t like it and emailed to check if it was normal to hear this. I was assured I would get used to it and, indeed, I don’t notice it any more.
I noticed more sounds and from further away. It felt like a film sound editor had gone overboard in adding sound effects – wind through leaves, birds singing, distant traffic rumble, jingling keys and distant conversation. However, despite this increase in background noises, I was far better able to distinguish speech of those close to me. I ate a meal with friends in a crowded restaurant and found myself, not just not having to put so much effort in to hear them, actually contributing to the conversation and asking questions! It was only then that I realised how my adjusting to hearing loss meant I was cutting myself off from those around me.
How do you find them now? How does it sound different?
Like my glasses, I can sometimes forget whether I have them on or off. I quite often have to rub along the top of my hearing aids (where the microphones are) to check whether or not they are working. And yet, again like my glasses, there is a physical relief at the end of the day when I take them off. And, like my glasses, I can cope perfectly well without them for short times but it takes more concentration and can be very tiring.
Is there anything you still find difficult?
I don’t often use the loop setting but it is useful when I want to hear just what’s coming through a microphone rather than a low hubbub of noise around me. Like first getting my hearing aids, it’s a different way of hearing and, if the microphone is close, it can amplify my voice as well as the speaker’s, so it’s a way of hearing that I don’t like because I’m not used to it. It is also tricky switching my hearing aids to the loop setting – I hold the volume control in, it beeps twice (meaning it has switched to loop setting), then there’s a pause and then it beeps once (meaning it has switched back!).
Listening to my MP3 player is a rigmarole since I need to plug leads with special “boots” on the end into the base of the hearing aids. It takes quite a while to attach or detach these leads.
Something Helen complains about is that I still don’t speak loudly enough.
Always carry a little bendy plastic wire to clear the hearing aid tubes. The slightest speck of wax can block these, silencing all sound. Spare batteries are obvious but, unless you use hearing aids, you are unlikely to recognise that these wires are every bit as important.
The headphone leads I bought didn’t indicate left and right so I used coloured felt tip to mark them.
Your brain will quickly adapt to hearing in a different way.
Any environments which are difficult?
Although it is far better than it would be without my hearing aids, I still find it difficult when there is a hubbub of voices to focus on just one voice.
I recently found a very echoey room unpleasant. I could hear conversations with little problem but I just wanted to get out of there.
Phone calls are less of a problem than they were but I can still struggle, especially when people want to talk on mobiles or have accents I’m not used to.
Are there any books or other websites that you have found useful?
Fewer than I expected, actually. Here is a blog post I admired.
A book that I did find both useful and fascinating was Sound: Stories of Hearing Lost and Found (Wellcome). It contains chapters on hearing loss among the military, musicians and factory workers and perfectly articulates the way that hearing loss causes us to isolate ourselves from those around us. I kept wanting to quote facts from it and definitely recommend it.