By Victoria White
GAINESVILLE, Fla.---Hearing aids don't restore normal hearing, but they do help and could be more useful to the estimated 85 percent of older Americans who could benefit from the devices but don't wear them.
"People assume incorrectly that hearing aids do for ears what glasses do for eyes--that your hearing gets completely restored," said Alice Holmes, University of Florida associate professor in the College of Health Professions' department of communicative disorders. "That misunderstanding results in some dissatisfied customers who never learn how to get the most from their aids. They think, 'This thing doesn't work,' and spread the idea that they aren't worth the trouble."
To prevent hearing aids from winding up in dresser drawers, Holmes has developed a free orientation program for new wearers. The four-session program, offered at UF in Gainesville, has been shown to increase patient satisfaction. It provides a realistic picture of what hearing aids can do, how to adjust and maintain them and how to prevent communication breakdowns.
In an effort to encourage other audiologists to create similar programs around the state, Holmes discussed the orientation Saturday (5/23/98) at a conference of the Florida Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Marco Island. "Hearing aids can significantly improve the quality of life for a person with a hearing loss, and technological advances have dramatically improved hearing aid performance," Holmes said. "But it must be remembered that they're not going to give a person normal hearing."
Like many others who have gone through the orientation program, Charles Hall, 74, of Gainesville says his aids are excellent. "It makes quite a bit of difference in what I can and cannot do," said the retired three-star general whose long Army career exposed him to loud aircraft and bursts of artillery fire. "I can hear people talk now, where before I was kind of guessing and always asking people to repeat what was said."
Hall said his wife of 49 years has been saying from the beginning of their marriage that he had a hearing loss. But he didn't get help until February, motivated by a good friend who had recently begun wearing hearing aids and strongly recommended them.
During the Thursday morning group orientation sessions, Holmes and her colleagues: - offer tips on improving room acoustics, such as putting a sound barrier around an office printer, or putting up a wall hanging in a cubicle. - give an overview of available tools, such as amplified telephones, microphones that can aid conversing in a noisy restaurant, and audio headphones that movie theaters or performing arts theaters can provide for free. - explain each individual's specific hearing loss--which pitches they cannot hear and how much amplification is necessary to make particular sounds audible to them. - suggest strategies for handling communication breakdowns.
"You can ask a person to repeat what was said, but if you don't get it the second time, you're probably not going to get it the 42nd time either," Holmes said. "So we would suggest that the person be asked to rephrase their thoughts or spell a word that is causing trouble.
"A lot of what we cover is common sense, but sometimes common sense goes out the window when we feel embarrassed and blame ourselves for a problem, rather than blaming the situation."
Holmes urges new hearing aid users to bring their spouses or other household members with them to the sessions.
"They can learn a lot of the strategies that can help a person with a hearing loss," she said. "They can learn not to shout from one room to the next or to turn the TV down when trying to have a conversation.
"Sometimes the unrealistic expectations about hearing aids come from the people around the person with a hearing loss," Holmes noted. "They may be able to hear fine, but sometimes they are the ones with the communication problem."
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Materials provided by University of Florida. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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