The “acclimatization” period for new hearing aids: Expectations & Strategies
New hearing aid patients often report that their hearing aids sound loud, tinny, metallic, or unnatural. Although as providers we recognize these comments, we realize that these concerns will decrease with time. This process is often described as acclimatization (or an adjustment period): a reaction to amplification that occurs when the patient has become accustomed to hearing sound filtered by their hearing loss. I often use the scenario as sitting in the dark or dim light for a long period of time. When you finally turn the lights on, you may experience sensory overload, where everything seems too bright. Overtime, the brain will adapt to the new environment. The same sensory experience occurs with hearing, however, unlike vision, the adaptation time can take much longer. Most individuals will be able to comfortably approach a prescribed target with 4-6 weeks.
Here are some guidelines for a smooth transition with hearing aids:
Set realistic expectations
I cannot stress enough how important this first step is to better acclimatize to your hearing aids. Recognizing that sounds may initially sound different or unnatural will better prepare you for the initial adaptation period. Differences in voices, environmental sounds, and even the sound of your own voice may sound unfamiliar. This is normal. We want to bring these sounds back to you! Understanding these outcomes from the beginning and knowing that the brain will become accustomed over time is a crucial step to successful adaptation.
Practice speech sound discrimination
Prepare a list of words that sound similar, but may differ by a single sound (for example, noon/prune, broom/room). Have a companion read the list of words aloud to you, as you repeat back to them. Become familiar with the visual aspects of sound discrimination- what sounds “look” like on the mouth, somewhat like lipreading. For example, the /t/ and /k/ consonants sound very similar, but when someone makes those sounds, ex: take vs cake, the way we move our mouth to produce the sound is different. Next, try repeating the task without watching your partner and concentrate on the subtle sound differences between the words. Another activity that may be helpful is to listen to your partner as he/she reads aloud from a newspaper or magazine while you read along silently. After a day or two you may want to introduce some background noise from the television or a radio. The noisier the environment, the more challenging the discrimination task becomes. This is the case even for individuals with normal hearing. Keep in mind that auditory discrimination with impaired ears can be difficult and you may not be able to make some sound distinctions right away. Over time and with practice, you will improve.
Follow the treatment plan
Discuss with your provider what your treatment plan is. Treating hearing loss goes beyond the use of a device. Discuss expectations and wear time with your provider. Follow the guidelines and exercises given to you. Most importantly, return for routine follow-up appointments and be open with your provider. The patient-provider relationship is key for success. Be open with what is working and what is not. We typically see our patients for follow-up visits at least 3 times during our trial and adaptation period. Once the acclimatization period is reached, set a plan for the next phase of the treatment process.
Do not become discouraged
Remember, you did not lose your hearing overnight, nor will you become fully adapted to your new hearing aids right away. But by practicing these suggestions and following the treatment plan discussed with your provider, you will continue to acclimatize and truly experience improved quality of life through better hearing!
If you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, or would like to get a free hearing test, please contact our offices to schedule an appointment!