Only it was as simple as just buying a pair of hearing aids and walking away, but unfortunately It’s not. First of all, what we have to understand is that how different degrees and types of hearing loss affects a person is different to one another. This is due to the fact that every single one of us unique in terms of our human physiology. Because of the same reason how each of our hearing system is going to react to a hearing aid is going to be different. This is where stories are going around about how a family member or a friend who bought a hearing aid, found it too loud and noisy and ended up in the drawer.
Adaptation is extremely important in the rehabilitation process. Of the whole process buying a hearing is only 30 percent. Next 30 percent comes in how it is appropriately fitted and fine-tuned to your hearing. Next 40 percent or the important step are the follow up appointments.
This is because of the role of memory in our hearing. Every time a sound goes into our ear it connects to the memory centre in our brain creating a template. The more the frequency of sound going in, the stronger the template gets and because we are exposed to that every day that becomes “NORMAL/COMFORTABLE” for us whether it’s actually normal or not. Now we have to remember that most permanent hearing loss types do not happen overnight but it happens over many years and our hearing system, because its exposed to the sounds (with hearing loss) over many years, It will consider the sounds perceived with hearing loss as “COMFORTABLE” or “NORMAL HEARING”.
So when we first fit the hearing aid for a patient we have to do the process just like may be learning to walk again or getting back into any activity that we used to do. On the first day of hearing aid fitting, instead of setting the hearing aids to 100%, we set it a much lower level depending on the individual. Excellent improvement will be noticed within the clinic. Along with an improvement in speech perception the individual will start to perceive other environmental sounds that he or she has not been hearing or hearing at a much lower level for a long time. This is due to the increased sensation due to immediate amplification which will subside eventually and become part of normal hearing. First stage for our brain is to hear both important (Speech) and less important sounds (environmental sounds) as our brain is not used to hearing both at normal level. But with time and gradual exposure to normal hearing level our brain will relearn how to filter the speech from the background noise without completely fading out the background noise which is actual normal hearing.
A gradual increase in use of the hearing aid should be done in first two weeks as this is the most critical stage in adaptation. Follow up will be done following the first fit on 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and every year. During each appointment the hearing aid gain will be gradually increased to reach the target (100%) to get the complete benefit according to the individuals hearing adaptation. This can roughly take between 4 to 8 months. An increase in the speech perception in background noise ability will be noticed over this period as this is a learning period for our brain.
So to conclude, hearing rehabilitation/hearing aid fitting is not just about buying a pair of hearing aids but it’s all about how it’s been professionally fitted and how it is being followed up to make sure it reaches its full potential to provide the best benefit to the patient.