What I wish they knew

Today I had the pleasure of seeing a patient who I've been treating for about three years. What originally brought her in was difficulty hearing her family and customers after the death of her husband. He husband was the one that typically dealt with travelers visiting their business. After his death, she had to take on more of an active role and found herself struggling to hear, interact, and conduct basic business. She also noticed she hadn't been hearing her family as well. She had been so busy taking care of her ailing husband, that she'd let her own health needs slide, including her hearing.

She has been successfully wearing hearing aids since she took that important first step and had her hearing tested and chose to be fit with hearing aids. She has been diligent in getting regular cleanings from our office and well as maintaining them at home. Her most recent hearing test is less than a year old and the hearing aids were programmed to the test at the time. So why did she come to see me today?

She scheduled an appointment because she 'was having trouble with her hearing aids." When she arrived today, she told me, "my kids are fussing because they say I'm not hearing them. I told them, 'well I have a hearing loss and I'm wearing my hearing aids. You'll just have to speak up!' but I was wondering if you could check them." After she removed them, I excused myself so I could clean and check the aids. Because she has been so proactive about maintaining her hearing aids, they were in great shape except for a clogged wax guard on the right side. I cleaned, vacuumed, and did a listening check before returning to the fitting room to chat with her more.

In our conversation, it was clear she knew what her hearing aids were capable of. She remarked that when riding in a car with people around her same age, they were happy to talk towards her instead of towards the car window. She told me that when she has lunch with friends, they opt for quieter places at non-peak times. If she encountered someone that she couldn't hear, she wold tell them she had a hearing loss and ask them to speak up and/or clearer. To an Audiologist, she's a dream patient!

So why are her adult children fussing at her that she isn't hearing them?

Knowing all the things I know about my patient, I have to go back to realistic expectations and not from my patient but from her family. Here are a few things I wish the friends and family of my patients knew:

  1. Hearing aids aren't "the great equalizer". They don't make someone with a hearing loss hear "normally" when they are wearing them. They simply augment the residual hearing, the hearing someone has left, and use that to try to make things louder and clearer. 
  2. If you're walking away from a hearing aid wearer, not only are they not able to see your mouth when you're speaking to them, your voice is getting softer and softer with every step you take. Don't expect someone with hearing loss to hear and/or understand you while you're walking away from them. 
  3. It is always a good idea to get the attention of the hearing aid wearer  before you begin speaking to them. A simple, "Bob?"  and letting them acknowledge they know you are talking to them will help tremendously before you get halfway through what you're saying and realize they aren't even listening to you or didn't know you were speaking to them will save your sanity! 
  4. Even with hearing aids, many people prefer to watch television with closed captioning. If it means they are able to enjoy television without constantly asking you "what did they say?" that's a win!
  5. Even with hearing aids, it is unrealistic to expect a hearing aid wearer to hear you if you are in one room and they are in another. You can't expect the wife with hearing loss-- wearing hearing aids in the kitchen standing at the sink with the water running, dishwasher going, and pot boiling on the stove--to hear the husband that asks her what time dinner will be ready. Even those with normal hearing probably cannot hear you!
  6. Hearing aids aren't maintenance free. They require (pretty much) daily maintenance. They require periodic more deep clean and checks by the Audiologist. They will use batteries. It will require regular hearing test to assess hearing acuity and to update the prescription in the hearing aids as necessary due to changes in hearing. This is normal and should be expected. Regardless of "how much you paid for them", hearing aids require regular maintenance if they are to last and be worth the investment made. 
These are just a few of the things I wish family and friends of my patients knew. I could go on and on but these are the high points. What did I miss? What are some things you wish non-hearing aid wearers knew?