8. Will I Be Able To Hear Like A 17 Year Old With My New Hearing Aids?
Dr. Abonso: My goodness,
what expectations you have! No, you won't be able to hear like a 17 year old.
Former surgeon general Dr. Koop says that's one expectation you'll have to give
Suspicious Consumer: How does he know?
Dr. Abonso: He's
been wearing hearing aids himself for years, quite successfully.
Suspicious Consumer: So he didn't get his 17 year old hearing back, even with hearing aids?
Dr. Abonso: No.
In about a year, though, hearing aids with super-directional microphones should
be available. Perhaps with those he will be able to understand conversations
in noise as well as young people do. But there is more to hearing than hearing
in noise. How about music?
Suspicious Consumer: I want to
know what to expect about hearing in noise.
Dr. Abonso: OK,
but I love music: I direct a choir, you know. Anyway, you have only a mild-moderate
hearing loss and should do quite well with your new hearing aids.
Suspicious Consumer: What does "quite well" mean? Can you
put numbers on it?
Dr. Abonso: Yes.
I see you have good hearing aids; your dispenser didn't give you a pair of those
old-fashioned, narrow band, crummy-peak-clipping hearing aids such as unenlightened
dispensers do. That bought you at least 10 years of auditory youthening. There's
a number for you.
Suspicious Consumer: "Auditory
youthening?" "Youth-ening??" Is that a word?
Dr. Abonso: It wasn't until I used it.
Suspicious Consumer: The number you gave me doesn't help me very much.
Dr. Abonso: I'll
be more serious. Without hearing aids, in order to understand people in noise
you probably needed to have them speak up, twice as loud as the noise. Numerically,
you probably needed what's called a +9 dB signal-to-noise ratio.
Suspicious Consumer: What do normals need?
Dr. Abonso: Amazingly
enough, they can understand conversations even when the desired talker is almost
buried in the noise. In numbers, a -5 dB signal-to-noise ratio is all that is
required: The noise can be half again louder than the talker.
Suspicious Consumer: So what can
I expect with my new hearing aids?
Dr. Abonso: You
got them from a competent hearing professional, so your hearing aids should
allow you to understand conversations when the talker is as loud as the
noise. Numerically, this represents a 0 dB signal-to-noise ratio. That's not
back to normal, but it is about two-thirds of the way back to normal from your
unaided hearing. It's also a lot closer to normal than we used to be able to
achieve with hearing aids. With the old hearing aids, you could expect to hear
much worse than normal with the ...
Suspicious Consumer: I know, I know, the old fashioned crummy spike chopping aids.
Dr. Abonso: Peak clipping.
Suspicious Consumer: Thanks for giving me numbers. Is it really that simple?
Dr. Abonso: No.
With a mild-moderate hearing loss, you already hear loud sounds quiet
well with your own ears, so you shouldn't expect your hearing aids to improve
your hearing for loud sounds. The improvement comes for the quieter sounds that
you were missing. In most restaurants, for example, you should hear much better.
(In loud noise with your hearing aids, you should hear just as
well with them as without them. That's a big improvement over the old
narrow band peak clipping hearing aids. With those you could hear loud
sounds better with the aids removed.)
Suspicious Consumer: Is there a way to check how I'm doing
in noise compared to young people?
Dr. Abonso: Yes,
there is a new 24-minute test described in an article in the September 1993
issue of the Hearing Journal. It compares results with good and not-so-good
hearing aids. The article also discusses some useful distinctions that FDA Commissioner
David Kessler, MD didn't make when he appeared on TV.
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