Some 10% of Canadians suffer from hearing loss. Fortunately, most of those people will gain enormous benefit from wearing hearing aids. But one question we hear frequently is ‘will hearing aids restore my hearing to normal?’
The answer is, ‘no, a hearing aid cannot restore your hearing to normal or cure your hearing loss’. But a hearing aid will go a long way to restoring normal hearing levels for many of those activities you may have been missing out on.
Hearing aids are the treatment of choice for most types of hearing loss. You can think of hearing aids as a little like reading glasses. Just as glasses will help you see better hearing aids help support normal or near normal hearing function. They will provide significant improvements in understanding speech and other sounds and will help you to feel more comfortable with the everyday sounds in your environment.
As with any tool, you need to make sure you use the right hearing aid for your needs and you also need to understand that it takes time to adapt to using your hearing aids. Your House of Hearing audiologist can help you choose the right hearing aid and adjust it to suit your lifestyle.
How do hearing aids work?
In simple terms hearing aids work as amplifiers. In most cases of hearing loss the delicate hair cells that transfer sounds in the form of electric signals to your brain no longer function properly. A hearing aid picks up external sounds through a microphone and makes those sounds louder. This allows the remaining healthy hair cells to transmit the sounds to your brain as it would normally.
Modern technological advances have made hearing aids more sensitive and with a much greater range of adjustable features. These innovations enable the hearing aid to amplify the sounds you want to hear and reduce the sounds you don’t.
What will hearing aids do for me?
Hearing aids can do so much more than simply amplify sounds. Modern hearing aid technology also helps you to hear speech better thanks to advanced speech recognition algorithms. These also allow you to tune out irritating background noise so you can focus on the conversation.
Feature-rich modern hearing aids automatically adjust to your environment whether you’re sitting in a busy restaurant or enjoying a quiet walk in the forest. That means no more hasty fumbling with awkward settings controls in the event of sudden loud noises.
Today’s hearing aids also enable you to connect directly to your Smartphone and other Bluetooth devices for better sound clarity and speech comprehension. Better connectivity also provides a richer, deeper appreciation of music, film, and theatre.
Challenging conditions such as wind noise and feedback too are a thing of the past for the current generation of hearing aids. And with easy adjustment controls thanks to Smartphone apps you are in total control of your environment.
Modern hearing aids can also mask those irritating tinnitus sounds for an overall calmer, more relaxed listening experience. Innovative technology also helps you locate sounds more accurately and eliminates that bewildering and unsettling experience of not knowing in which direction to turn. Modern hearing aids can also provide a better hearing balance across both ears.
Why can’t hearing aids restore my hearing to normal?
Sadly, existing hearing aids cannot restore your hearing to normal or heal your hearing loss. So the question remains; why can’t hearing aids restore my hearing to normal? Hearing aids can restore the volume level to normal but the fact is that simply making sounds louder does not always provide the brain with enough of the right kind of information it needs.
The brain is used to receiving sound signals in specific ways that trigger particular neural responses; the sounds need to be intelligible to the brain. Part of the problem for hearing aid designers is that hearing loss not only reduces your ability to hear it distorts the way you hear sounds as well.
Simply amplifying sounds that the brain perceives as distorted does not always solve your hearing problem completely. If the brain does not recognise the amplified sounds coming through your hearing aid you may have problems understanding what you’re hearing.
Dr Lesica (Senior Research Fellow at the Ear Institute at University College London) suggests that it’s like “the ear now speaks an entirely new language that the brain does not understand.” There is literally a disconnect there that you need to learn to understand. In fact, a modern hearing aid is an extremely effective tool but like any tool it takes time to learn how to use it well.
Getting the most out of your hearing aids does involve a learning process. As part of that process your brain needs to forge some new neural patterns. It’s like learning a new language or like the brain adapting to a new prosthetic limb and you need to be patient.
Sometimes the brain has difficulty dealing with sounds it hasn’t heard in a long time. The brain will remember again but it won’t necessarily happen instantly. Fortunately, the results are well worth the effort and new hearing aids can transform your life.
So, the reality is we do not completely understand all aspects of hearing loss yet and hearing aids are not perfect. However, hearing aids can significantly improve the daily listening experience and social interactions of most people.
The good news is that research is constantly building a better picture of how the ears and brain connect. Science is constantly improving hearing aids and the hope is that one day hearing aids or other medical interventions will be able to restore damaged hearing back to normal.
But for now, to get the most out of your hearing aids you need to wear them daily. If you are having problems or something doesn’t seem quite right please contact your House of Hearing audiologist; we’re here to help.