Last month we covered the importance of an accurately fit hearing aid. This month we are going to talk about how important it is to receive comprehensive aural rehabilitation and follow-up after you have been fit. When you first get your hearing aids, many patients cannot get fit to the full prescription strength at the initial fitting appointment…if you have not been hearing normally, possibly for years, then regaining all that hearing sensitivity all in one shot can be overwhelming, especially if you have a more severe hearing loss. Your audiologist should fit your hearing aids to your prescription, then reduce the strength of that prescription to a level that is beneficial but still comfortable. The goal is to reach your full prescription as soon as possible, by making gradual increases to the prescription strength in the programmed settings in your hearing aids, but that timeline can vary from 2 weeks to 1 year or more. The timeline is different for everyone, depending on the amount of damage you have to your auditory system and the severity of the hearing loss. These visits are considered “follow-up visits” and are very important as your audiologist will be measuring your progress and making adjustments to the setting in your hearing aids as your brain changes and improves in its ability to understand speech. Understanding speech is not only about whether you can “hear” it (that’s what the hearing aid does for you), but also the processing that your brain does to understand what is being heard.
Aural rehabilitation is the other component of a plan of care. Your audiologist will use counseling and educational strategies to help you improve your communication skills. In fact, hearing is only one of the 5 keys to communication success. Communication is dependent on the speaker, the listener, the environment, technology, and practice. The aural rehabilitation portion of your care plan will focus on designing and teaching you and your family strategies and skills that will help you maximize the benefit you get from your hearing aids. It is an important component of hearing care and is often missing when patients purchase hearing aids. Today’s technology is amazing in what it can do for hearing impaired individuals, but at the end of the day, it is the human brain that must process the sounds heard and convert them into meaning. Aural rehabilitation, provided by an experienced and appropriately trained hearing professional, is the missing link for many people who struggle hearing, even with their hearing aids.