When you get new hearing aids, you may be surprised to find that it isn’t just like instantly getting your old hearing back. Hearing aids sound different from perfect natural hearing, and you will hear a lot of sounds that you’ve grown accustomed to not hearing or noticing. It can take several months to fully adjust to wearing hearing aids, so it’s important to be patient! It’s also important to tell your hearing care professional what you’re experiencing so that they can help you adjust to the things that are normal, and fix the things that aren’t.
The first week with your new hearing aids will be the most challenging, as everything is new. Here are some of the things you may notice:
1. Your Own Voice
Hearing your own voice through your hearing aids can be startling. During your initial fine-tuning session, your hearing care professional will adjust the hearing aids to minimize the strangeness, but you will also need to give yourself time to get used to hearing yourself in a new way. Think about it: you’re actually accustomed to hearing yourself through the middle of your own head, and now you’re hearing yourself externally, as though on a recording but in real-time. It was definitely strange at first. Rest assured that as you wear the hearing aids more and more, you’ll get used to this and stop noticing it!
2. Small Environmental Sounds
In almost all cases, hearing loss develops slowly over many years, and your brain recalibrates itself to no longer expect sounds like humming refrigerators, ticking clocks, and the swish of your pants as you walk. Some people even forget that these things make sounds at all, and are then shocked when they can hear those sounds again. This is completely normal: small environmental sounds will be audible again, and because you’re not used to hearing them (or, at least, hearing them quite so clearly), they can seem overwhelming at first. Again, wearing hearing aids all day every day will help your brain to acclimate to these sounds, and you’ll relearn to tune them out, just like you did before hearing loss.
3. Sharp Sounds in Speech
As your hearing loss developed, you may have lost the ability to hear certain sounds in people’s voices. If your hearing loss is in the high frequencies – the most common type of hearing loss – the sounds you’ll lose first are soft, high-pitched sounds like “s,” “f,” and “th.” Even if you haven’t lost those sounds entirely, you’ve probably gotten used to hearing a lot less of them, so when you get them back, they may seem very loud and sharp to you. People aren’t actually over-enunciating all their “s” sounds, we promise! It may sound strange at first, but you’ll also notice that you can understand what they’re saying much more easily, and as your brain reacclimates to those sounds, the sharpness will subside while the clarity remains.
4. What you can do to adjust faster
You’ll notice that for all the above examples, we promised that you would eventually adjust to those sounds and not find them bothersome any longer. The key to this is to wear hearing aids as much as possible. You want your brain to accept the hearing aids as the new normal. An ideal situation for training your brain is actually while you’re at home, not doing anything special – maybe there aren’t sounds that you “need” to hear because you’re alone, but in order to train yourself not to notice the refrigerator, the air conditioner, the clocks, or your rustling clothing, you need to spend time with those sounds, ignoring them. So you do want to wear the hearing aids around the house just as much as you want to wear them in the situations you got them for.
You’ll also want to listen to voices as much as possible, including your own. If your own voice is bothering you, even after your hearing professional has fine-tuned the hearing aids to help, it can be beneficial to read aloud to yourself or talk to your dog or cat as you go about your day. To get used to hearing and using those high-frequency consonant sounds, listen to other people talk – if you’re home alone, turn on the radio, TV, or an audiobook. The more you listen with your new hearing aids, the sooner you’ll feel comfortable with them!
5. The second week and beyond
It can take up to four months to fully adapt to your new hearing aids. Over that period of time, your brain will be constantly recalibrating itself until the new sounds are all normal to you. Your hearing care professional will also be meeting with you regularly – every week at first, then less frequently as time goes on – to gradually increase the amount of sound you’re receiving until you’re at your full prescription, and to fine-tune the hearing aids so that you’re comfortable and happy with them. You’ll hear more sound, and you’ll get increasingly good at prioritizing important sounds and ignoring the background. When people are fully adapted to their hearing aids, they feel weird when they take the aids off at the end of the day, like they’ve suddenly put on earplugs! Once you get used to having access to a full range of sound, you’ll miss it when it’s gone!
The most important things to keep in mind are to stay positive, patient, and motivated. The benefits of hearing aids can be wonderful, but it takes a bit of effort on your part to get through that initial adaptation period and learn to make the most of your new hearing aids. Your hearing care professional is always here to help, so don’t be afraid to ask questions!