AARP Eye Center
Hearing is one of five senses that put us in touch with our surroundings. Along with the other traditional senses — sight, smell, taste and touch — hearing allows us to navigate our way through the world. If the ability to hear slips away, the world may become a more confusing and lonely place. Hearing aids provide an effective solution, and now that they’re available over the counter, no prescription necessary, they’re even more affordable and more available.
But whether prescription or over-the-counter, hearing aids take some getting used to. Parts of the ear and brain that normally detect sounds become inactive with hearing loss, write Frank Lin, M.D., professor of otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and audiologist Nicholas Reed, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in AARP’s Hearing Loss for Dummies. When you first get hearing aids, those parts of the ear and brain that have been dormant can become overstimulated and that can seem jarring, the authors say. Your brain may need two to four weeks to get used to the new way of perceiving sounds. Here are some tips for getting accustomed to your new hearing aids.
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1. Get used to your new hearing aids
Start out slowly. When you first put on your new hearing aids, your own voice will sound strange to you. Sound doesn’t travel through the air and into your ears anymore. Rather, a microphone captures the sound, an amplifier makes it louder, and a receiver delivers it to your ear. It usually takes a while to get used to the different sound. “Many people feel discouraged when they start wearing hearing aids because every noise is too loud,” says Sarah Hesseltine, an audiologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston. “Even soft sounds like slippers on a carpet feel new,” she says. Background noises and sounds become really noticeable, and “the brain has to relearn which ones to pay attention to and which to ignore.”
Authors Frank Lin, M.D., and audiologist Nicholas Reed at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine lay out the steps to hearing health, including activities to help you get new hearing aids and tips for cleaning and maintaining the devices.
2. Get accustomed to your own voice
You might find it helps to take a favorite book or magazine to a quiet room, choose a comfortable chair and read aloud to yourself for a few minutes each day. Wear your new hearing aids all day every day for a week or two, Hesseltine advises, so you can get used to sounds you never paid attention to in the past. Keep in mind that getting used to new hearing aids, either prescription or over-the-counter (OTC), can be tiring. If wearing them from morning to night is too much, set them aside periodically and enjoy some quiet time.