Myths and Misconceptions

I’m Markus, your Ossicle Doctor of Audiology. I have been practicing clinical Audiology and seeing patients for over 15 years.  During this time I have consistently heard the same reports such as my spouse thinks I have a problem (i.e. it's not me), hearing aids make me look old, hearing aids are big, hearing aids don't work, hearing aids are just plain ugly. Really? I ask myself why improving one's ability to communicate, interact, relate and enjoy the subtleties of the worlds joyful noise to quote Neil Diamond is such a negative! In this article we will address and debunk some of these silly misconceptions because in the end, hearing aids are quite desirable.

Let's begin with denial. It's not my problem, he says. He just mumbles, she says. Bottom line: it is not my problem. And in a way, that's true. In all fairness, my hearing loss can affect a loved one's quality of life. They repeat, are misunderstood, become a social translator they didn't sign up to be. There is a joke that if hearing loss came about early in life, during the first few years of marriage, then the divorce rate would skyrocket. And it's true. Relationships are strained because of one party's medical condition. However, that condition is real, and must be owned, not denied and not ignored. With hearing loss, you can go through the various stages of grief, be angry, blame others, ignore the issue or be in denial, but ultimately you lose the longer you camp there. Proactive, assertive recognition and dealing with it has many be benefits. Any passive-aggressive behavior is destructive in the short term and long term.

So if it is your problem, you can deal with it. Whereas with a healthy perspective and good attitude, you will likely win over those around you to help make everyday challenging listening environments easier to hear and function within. Once you take ownership and responsibility for the condition, they are usually very willing to help out with things like communication strategies: speaking slower not necessarily louder, reducing background noise when talking, getting your attention before speaking to you and maintaining eye contact. These strategies make it easier to communicate with or without hearing aids but if you are in denial, their willingness to make things easier for you will not entice them to play nice.

Another myth is that hearing aids are for old people. Well, long ago that may have been true. The boomer generation, however, needs hearing aids now, to an estimated number of 1 in 2 people! That is a lot of young people because 50 is not old! This is not your grandma's hearing aid! And we are not talking about your grandma here. Sadly, only about 25% of those who need hearing aids actually get them, and of them, even fewer wear them. And why is that sad? Because the longer the auditory nerve is not stimulated, the weaker it gets and the less clear sounds are that travel that nerve. Hearing loss causes auditory deprivation resulting in a reduction of the ability to understand, so if you wait long enough to get hearing aids and hold on to the last possible minute, your benefit from the will be frustratingly low. With nerve deprivation you'll hear louder, but not necessarily more clearly. That is sad. And the reason why many people who get hearing aids don't wear them consistently is partly because they are not aware that by not wearing them they are risking more irreversible nerve damage, partly because they never really got used to them and gave up too soon, before auditory adaptation could work it's magic and partly because in general, research shows that clinicians know how to recommend and fit a hearing aid but they do not fare well with translating that into the patient's sense of benefit. The patient spends a lot of money, clinicians do their tests and measures, and orient the patient about how to use the device. But that is not enough! New research is suggesting that there is a lot of work to be done to teach patients about good clinician credentials and standards of practice. But that is another story.

Hearing aids are expensive. Well, that is true, not much of a myth there but just because something is expensive and we are upset about the cost, doesn't mean that the price is somehow wrong or unfair. Let's consider mass produced electronics. A good big screen TV can cost as much as a hearing aid but the cost of production and distribution is considerably less than that involved with a hearing aid, which involve a lot of research, development and labor. And whereas a large portion of the population consume TVs, only a small portion of the population will get hearing aids. So in the final analysis, hearing aids seem expensive but are pretty affordable considering the infrastructure that it takes to get them to the patient including the clinical process. Besides, for about $5 a day you can hear and relate and connect better or have a fancy coffee drink. The daily cost is quite reasonable for e benefit you are receiving in return.

Finally, I've heard e myth that hearing aids are big, ugly and a nuisance. Think again! Whereas size depends on the power or volume requirement of the user, even the largest hearing aids are well designed. They are often small and sleek and designed to not be too visible when worn. But always remember that having a hearing loss and missing things, responding inappropriately and sometimes just smiling and nodding is a lot more embarrassing than wearing a hearing aid. The technology is amazing too. Current hearing aids can play special sounds to reduce tinnitus perceptions, sync with your relatively over priced TV, phone and music player. You can have wireless streaming of audio signals directly to your hearing aids without anyone knowing. People pay a lot of money for high end noise reduction headphones and yours are smaller, shape the incoming sound to your own specific in-ear frequency response and take your calls too! Technology is only as good as it is reliable and practical and hearing aids get full marks in both.

So now you know what the myths are and why they are silly. Waiting to get hearing aids with a documented hearing loss is borderline irresponsible. Excuses are silly, get the facts and your lifelong enjoyment of audition does not need to be reduced.

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