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Unrealistic Expectations with Hearing Aids

Unrealistic expectations of hearing aids contribute to identity crisis, imposter syndrome and ableism. Hearing aids, and cochlear implants, have limits. If we don’t know about the limits, we get sucked into doubting ourselves (what’s wrong with me), doubting our abilities (how come I can’t…) and doubting our place in this world (where do I belong). It affects confidence. 

Hearing devices help! No doubt about that. With hearing devices, we hear more of our environment and more sounds of speech. Hearing loss is less work with hearing aids. Lipreading is less work with hearing. However, hearing aids, and cochlear implants, do not restore us to normal hearing. We do not go fully back to where we were before the loss. 

Hearing Device Limit: Be Within 6 Feet

Unrealistic expectation #1 with hearing aids and cochlear implants: We will understand you from another room. 

Green background. 
White text: Hearing aids and cochlear implants hear best within 6 feet. It's the hearing "bubble." Everything inside the bubble is easier to understand. Outside the hearing bubble, it's more liek noise.
6 feet with an two point arrow underneath. A white outline of a person in the upper left outside the bubble. Text underneath says: noise.
White outline of person to the right outside the bubble. Underneath it says: noise
A white outline of a person inside a glowing green circle with a gray hearing aid inside the circle. Under this person is says: understood! in black text.
The circular white hearing loss live logo in the bottom right.

Hearing devices work best within 6 feet. Audiologists will say up to 10 feet, if asked, but we hear better when we see better. Hearing devices work best when the sound is coming straight to us. Seeing is hearing because we all use the visual aspects of communication. This is why we cannot understand you from another room. We’ll hear your voice but understanding what was said is another issue. (See Hearing VS Understanding.)

Tip: To improve hearing from anything more than 6 feet (church, lectures, plays, movies) use assistive listening. All public places are required to have assistive listening systems. You will learn to like your hearing aids more when you bridge the gap with assistive listening. Here’s a brief explanation about personal assistive technology and public assistive listening.  Personal mics can be used in certain public situations, as long as you are upfront about what it does and you aren’t afraid to use it. You will like your hearing aids more in combination with assistive listening. Learn more about companion microphones to hearing devices HERE

Hearing Device Limit: Background Noise Interferes

Unrealistic expectation #2 for hearing aids and cochlear implants: We can hear in noisy situations. 

Lots of wavy colorful lines; yellow, purple, red, green.
In white text that's hard to read with all the lines: This what processing sound with hearing devices looks like in noise.
This is what processing sound with hearing devices looks like in noise.

Yes and no. We hear noise. While hearing aids are better than ever, it can be difficult to process out background noise. They are better than before but we still understand speech best in quiet environments. The more noise, the more speech discrimination goes down. Also, mechanical hearing seems to pick up mechanical sounds best. That plane flying overhead will drown out speech. A noisy ventilation system will impede on speech discrimination. The kid across the street working on his car without a muffler and revving the engine, will drown out speech. (Hearing people get annoyed with that one too.)

Tip: Limit background noise as much as possible. See if you can get a companion microphone with your hearing device. Use these in noisy environments like restaurants and cars, to improve speech discrimination. It won’t be perfect but it should help. Use your hearing aid apps to tweak programs further, controlling how much you hear from your hearing aids and/or microphone (called ambient noise). 

Hearing Aid Limit: Volume Distorts

Unrealistic expectation #3, “Turn up your hearing aid!” Or cochlear implant. That from hearing people. 

Green background.
White Text: "Turn up your hearing aid/cochlear implant!"
Black text: Don't SHOUT either. (shout in yellow)
Sh (in yellow then black medium sized text) I an just barely hear with hearing aids.
OU (in yellow then black big text) the OW sound I can hear without hearing aids.
T (n yellow, then black in small text) I have no chance of hearing ever. Even with hearing aids. 
White text: When the volume goes up, I lose clarity. The sh (in yellow) will be drowned out by the OU (in yellow) and the T warped beyond recognition.
White 3 leaves logo near the right middle.
I hear OW only with more volume.

No, it does not work that way and this is most definitely a form of ableism in regards to hearing loss. It’s trying to fix us and not taking your share of the responsibility. Volume distorts. We need clarity, and a little projection. Projection equals a little louder but also clarity and articulation. When we turn up hearing aids, the volume for everything goes up. If we have a sensorineural hearing loss, louder means certain sounds in speech will be overshadowed with the sounds we hear well.  

Tip: Read this ARTICLE by Casting Frontier and then share it with your hearing family and friends to improve communication. This is excellent advice for talking to someone with hearing loss, hearing devices or no hearing devices. 

Hearing Device Limit: Locating Sound is Difficult

While this isn’t an unrealistic expectation it is confusing when we can’t locate sound.

This is with hearing aids and without. Example situation: Someone calls out your name. You look right, then left, ahead and finally behind. Aha, they called us from behind. (We are conditioned from birth to hear our names and it’s a great way to get our attention.) How about someone calling our name from another room and we have gone through several rooms to figure out where you are? We lose the directional sense of natural hearing. Hearing aids help us hear, however, give us a minute to find you.  

Tip: Don’t just say “Up here” or “down here” or even “over here”.  Give us a distinct, easy word to understand. “In the kitchen,” or “In the basement.”  If you’re in a crowd, raise your hand and give us a wave. We’ll locate you fast with the visual elements of communication. 

Hearing aids aren’t called hearing miracles for a reason. 

There’s adjustments to be made on both sides of the communication equation. It’s unfair to make the person with hearing loss carry the burden of communication when it takes two to properly communicate, in all regards! There are small adjustments that can be made to reduce frustration. Hearing aids or no hearing aids, follow the 3 Golden Rules. No one is perfect, we all foul up. When a misstep in communication occurs, follow up with a simple “duh” and laugh it off.  Evaluate what went wrong and carry on with the intent to keep trying to do better. 

Learn more with Hearing Loss LIVE & Friends

Hearing Loss Misconceptions, Feb 2022

Here’s an article Chelle wrote for the SayWhatClub, another blog to learn more about hearing loss. Sept 2017

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