Ask Dr. Abonso
11. A Salesman Came To My Home. He Told Me I Should Buy A Second Hearing Aid Or I Would Lose Some Of My Hearing.

Dr. Abonso: That's probably true, in one sense.

Suspicious Consumer: Come on, now! That's like the encyclopedia salesman telling me that my kids will do poorly in school and never go to college unless I sign right now to buy a set of his encyclopedias.

Dr. Abonso: I don't sell hearing aids.

Suspicious Consumer: I know: I'm just expressing my anger at home-visit salesmen who aren't honest.

Dr. Abonso: Well, you've touched one of my nerves, and I want to provide you with some information. May I tell you about some recent research?

Suspicious Consumer: Sure, but I don't trust research.

Dr. Abonso: Would you believe test results obtained on your own ears?

Suspicious Consumer: By you?

Dr. Abonso: No, by your audiologist.

Suspicious Consumer: What did they show?

Dr. Abonso: Your records show that 4 years ago you chose -- against your audiologist's advice -- to wear only one hearing aid. You chose your right ear because it was easier for you.

Suspicious Consumer: That's true. Why do you bring it up?

Dr. Abonso: When you were first tested 4 years ago, both of your ears tested about the same on word lists. When you were tested last month, although your hearing loss for tones hadn't changed, your left ear word score was 20% lower than your right ear score. That could be due to chance, but it's not likely.

Suspicious Consumer: You mean I really did lose something in my unaided left ear by not using it?

Dr. Abonso: I believe so. That would be consistent with the research I wanted to tell you about.

Suspicious Consumer: Research by real scientists and not marketing people?

Dr. Abonso: Yes, honest scientists.

Suspicious Consumer: O.K., you have my ear.

Dr. Abonso: Dr. Shlomo Silman and his colleagues at the East Orange V.A. Medical Center found that veterans fitted with two hearing aids retained the same speech scores in both ears even years later, while those fitted with only one hearing aid nearly always lost some of their acuity for speech in the unaided ear.

Suspicious Consumer: That's hard to believe.

Dr. Abonso: Yes it is, but since then studies in Japan, England, Germany, Scotland, and the U.S. have confirmed these surprising findings.

Suspicious Consumer: What about veterans that refused any hearing aid?

Dr. Abonso: Interestingly enough, they didn't lose acuity in either ear.

Suspicious Consumer: That doesn't make any sense.

Dr. Abonso: Not until Dr. Silman and his friends realized that nobody goes with out a hearing aid! The unaided veteran was using both ears all the time: He just made his wife and friends speak louder so he could hear them. His wife and friends were his hearing aids!

Suspicious Consumer: Were they willing to do that?

Dr. Abonso: Yes, willing but not happy! That's why they dragged him back into the clinic; they were tired of shouting all the time. It's pretty hard to be friendly and loving to someone you are hollering at!

Suspicious Consumer: What happens to the unaided ear?

Dr. Abonso: It appears that part of the brain wiring that was used to hook up that ear gets rewired for other things.

Suspicious Consumer: If I start wearing two aids, will my brain fully wire that ear up again?

Dr. Abonso: Almost; research indicates it won't be quite as good as if you had never lost it.

Suspicious Consumer: So I should trust my door-to-door hearing aid salesman?

Dr. Abonso: I wouldn't go that far. Why don't you go back to your audiologist who is highly trained and can determine if a hearing aid for your left ear will help.

© 1993

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