It’s a funny thing about hearing aid users. Our relationship with our devices, like any relationship, has its peaks and valleys. Some people tear them off at the end of the day for some ‘peace and quiet’, while others wait until just before sleep, absorbing the last bit of sound from their day.
In the early days, most of us drag our feet before succumbing to the need for hearing technology but soon, daily life without it is unimaginable. At some point, the previous unthinkable happens – we start envying other people’s hearing aids.
Their devices seem tinier. More invisible. Nicer color. Cheaper. Can be controlled like a drone.
It doesn’t matter whether their hearing aid is appropriate for our personal degree or type of hearing loss, we want what they have – why? Do we think they hear better than we do? Does their device look snappier and less out there than ours? Do they seem happier with their hearing loss than we do? Or have we finally embraced the life-changing power of assistive technology and other strategies – and we want more of it.
My loss was mild as a child and the professional opinion was not to put a body aid on me. But at 20, having narrowly survived the teen years of mortification of not hearing well, I took a step forward. I wanted a hearing aid, and I got one.
Despite the years of longing, I was embarrassed at wearing this huge lump of putty-beige plastic behind and in my ear. With the gift of hindsight, I see these stages as part of the hearing loss journey, the process of adaptation. After its obligatory three-week stint in a drawer, my hearing aid was in my ear from when I awoke to the last possible moment before going to sleep. For the next 20 years, I wore a succession of similar hearing aids but not knowing anyone else with hearing loss, there was no chance for hearing aid envy.
In the mid-90s, the world of hearing technology exploded. I finally met other people with hearing loss, and my world became larger and brighter. I lusted after the new completely-in-the-canal (CIC), in-the-ear, and the smaller BTE devices with clearer cords. They offered esthetical and practical advantages and I wanted them, partly to hear better and, yes, partly to look better. (I’m only human.)
I heard people raving about the magic of telecoils that could connect my hearing devices to hearing loops and telephones. I no longer had to sit in the front row. From the back of the room, I heard every word crisply, clearly. I didn’t know how it worked, but who cared, someone else did.
And then – as my hearing had become very severe-to-very profound – my journey veered toward a Cochlear implant. I had always thought, “Well at least my hearing isn’t so bad that I need one of those!” But the time had come; my latest hearing assessment revealed only 2% speech discrimination in my right ear, thanks to a couple of lucky guesses. I wanted the possibility of what many people experience with their implants – their tinnitus disappeared.
I’m now bimodal, using complementary technology – a ReSound hearing aid on the left side and a Cochlear implant on the right. Honestly, do they work as seamlessly as two hearing aids? Not quite. Hearing electronically on one side and acoustically on the other, is a different sound. But it works for me.
Hearing aid envy can be a good thing because it shows we care about improving our communication. When we admire how well other people function with their devices, it’s their fine-tuning of communication strategies that should inspire us. If we want what they have, it starts with shifting our goal from wanting to hear better to wanting to communicate better, using a wider range of technology and non-technical skills.
If you do this – you’ll find other people with hearing loss being inspired by you!
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