We recently sat down with Dr. Malocha, Audiologist, to discuss recent improvements in hearing aids, some of the first signs of hearing loss, and why it’s not always the best decision to listen to the opinions of others when considering this investment.
Q: How have hearing aids improved over the years?
A: When I first started, most of the hearing aids were analog, which meant that I had to make little screwdriver adjustments. Now they’re all digital, which means that we can be much more flexible and precise when programming them for patients, resulting in much better sound quality.
Also, they help so much better in noisy environments. The number 1 complaint when I first started was that patients were really struggling to understand speech if there was any competing background noise. Today’s hearing aids have the ability to focus more on the speech in front of them while reducing the noise behind them. They’re called directional microphones, and they help patients hear in those difficult environments. The hearing aids talk back and forth to one another and adjust automatically in order to find the speech that’s directed at the person.
My whole career, the way it’s always been, is that hearing aids have had disposable batteries that you would have to replace in 3-5 days. You would have to always be changing batteries, which can be very difficult for a lot of our patients to do. A couple of years ago they came out with rechargeable hearing aids, so that’s been a game changer! So now, no more changing batteries. You just put them in a case at night and that charges them up.
Hearing aids look a lot better too! The older hearing aids you could see from a mile away, the banana behind the ear, filling up the ear cavity. Now they’re so small. They fit behind the ear with just a little skinny wire and people usually can’t even see them.
Q: What are some of the early signs of hearing loss?
The first signs of hearing loss that I will typically hear about is that they know when someone’s talking to them, but they don’t understand them clearly, and that’s because they’re missing parts of each word, so it sounds like people are mumbling. Or if they’re in an environment where there’s any competing background noise, that’s where hearing loss is going to show up. When people have hearing loss they’re missing parts of every word so they have to focus harder to follow conversations. Any type of competing background noise is going to make it much harder to fill in the gaps and they’re going to struggle more in that situation. Also, a lot of times, family or friends will see the hearing loss before the person themselves.
Q: Hearing aids are an investment, so it makes sense that patients would ask around before making this purchase. Can you explain why, in this scenario, it’s not always best to make your decision based on the experience of others?
A lot of people, when they talk to other people who wear hearing aids, if there are some bad experiences that their friends or family have experienced then they might feel like they’re going to struggle as well. It’s important to keep in mind that there are a lot of different factors that impact the success of hearing aids, so you don’t want to just go by someone else’s experience. A lot of it could be that their hearing loss level is much greater than yours. Some people have so much hearing loss that even with properly fit hearing aids, they’re still going to struggle. So that’s a factor, but also the type of hearing aid they’re wearing. They may be wearing much older technology and really struggling with any type of background noise. You, on the other hand, won’t have that experience because you’re getting current technology that helps more in that situation.