Ask Dr. Abonso
6. How Long Do I Have To Wear My New Hearing Aids Before I Get Used To Them?

Dr. Abonso: That's a tough question. In many cases, your new hearing aids will sound wonderful the instant you put them on.

Suspicious Consumer: Well mine didn't; they still sound funny after three weeks.

Dr. Abonso: From listening to your speech, I suspect that you have a severe high-frequency loss and that you haven't heard many of the high-frequency speech sounds for years.

Suspicious Consumer: What are you, Professor Higgins or something? What can you tell from my speech?

Dr. Abonso: Your "S's" sound mushy, for one thing. People who hear clearly usually don't make mushy "S" sounds.

Suspicious Consumer: But you haven't even asked why I'm unhappy with my hearing aids.

Dr. Abonso: Tell me your complaints.

Suspicious Consumer: I have three. First, everyone sounds a bit like Donald Duck; even me. Second, my own voice bothers me because it also sounds as though I'm speaking into a barrel. Third, the hearing aid is noisy. Unless I'm in a very quiet room, I hear all sorts of distracting noises.

Dr. Abonso: One of those, the barrel effect, your dispenser can probably improve (but perhaps not eliminate) with a modification. The other two sound like a problem of re-training your brain.

Suspicious Consumer: Why bring my brain into this? It's my hearing that is impaired.

Dr. Abonso: Because your brain is designed to be moldable like plastic. If one has a stroke, for example, another part of the brain can ultimately take over the tasks the damaged part was doing.

Suspicious Consumer: What does that have to do with me?

Dr. Abonso: When you lose part of your hearing, [the corresponding] part of your brain -- which now has no input from your ear -- apparently gets "re-mapped" to do other things. May I tell you about some recent research?

Suspicious Consumer: If you have to. I was hoping for a simple conversation I could understand.

Dr. Abonso: Prof. Gatehouse in England has been studying how long it takes for the brain to make use of new information from a hearing aid. It looks as though the brain makes little use of the new information for 5-6 weeks, then gradually starts to use it.

Suspicious Consumer: How did he know?

Dr. Abonso: He measured word recognition scores every week. The scores didn't change for 5 weeks, but after 6 weeks they climbed steadily.

Suspicious Consumer: So I'll be happy with my hearing aids in another 3-6 weeks?

Dr. Abonso: Maybe, maybe not. Before going through that much unhappiness, it would be a good thing to have your dispenser do a "real-ear" measurement to make absolutely certain your hearing aids are giving you the right amount of high frequency gain. Perhaps they need to be re-adjusted.

Suspicious Consumer: So after my hearing aids have been readjusted, I'll be happy in 3-6 more weeks and not toss them into my dresser drawer?

Dr. Abonso: Unless the problem is that the hearing aids are painfully loud or are distorted and sound rotten. You might get used to that in time, but you would never be able to hear very well in noise. Your dispenser might want to do a listening check to make certain your aids produce a clear, undistorted sound.

Suspicious Consumer: This sounds tricky. Sometimes the aids need readjustment, sometimes it is only my brain that needs readjustment.

Dr. Abonso: Well put.

© 1993

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