Everything’s fine apart from when it comes to background noise…

By Michael Lawrence

“Everything’s fine apart from the background noise; I can’t catch what people are saying. It’s embarrassing sometimes” said Diane when asked how things are progressing with her new hearing aids. When offered a remote mic as a solution for these situations, she responded “I’m not sure how I’d feel about asking someone to talk into a microphone. No, thank you.”

A major complaint if not the major complaint from hearing aid users is background noise when trying to converse with others.  But how much time do we spend listening and sympathizing with clients, only to have them leave the same as they came in and having to accept that “hearing aids are limited.” I can certainly say, this is the case with me the vast majority of times.

Hearing aids are indeed limited, but that doesn’t mean there are no solutions or ways to mitigate those limitations. I often wonder why accessories for hearing aids are so rarely seen or spoken about. As someone who wears hearing aids, I can say I see them as a tool. I believe that just using hearing aids is like vacuuming a house without using additional attachments. Yes, it does the job. But it could be better.

I used to think that using a remote mic in background noise benefitted me significantly because my hearing loss is profound. However, I was inspired recently by a talk by Douglas Beckwho highlighted how even people with moderate hearing loss can see major benefits from using a remote mic in background noise. Harvey Dillon’s rule states that for every 10 dB of hearing loss, a 3 dB increase in signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is needed just to maintain speech intelligibility. This means that someone with a moderate hearing loss would need up to 6dB increase in SNR. Douglas Beck mentioned that an optimally fitted hearing aid can only improve SNR by 2-3 dB.

To compare SNR to word recognition, for every 1 dB improvement in SNR, the client benefits in word recognition by 7-10%, according to Taylor and Mueller. This might not sound like a lot, but how many clients tell us that they miss the punchline? That 7-10% improvement could be the difference between getting the punchline and not. That 7-10% improvement could make a world of difference and I am speaking from experience here.

The evidence tells us that additional accessories can benefit most clients in background noise. But how can we get more clients to use these accessories? How can I get my clients to see and enjoy the benefits of additional accessories like I’m able to?  This is where person-centered care comes into practice. Before someone is even fitted with a hearing aid, asking them to highlight specific situations where they want to hear better and devising a plan for what can be done in each situation to help them hear better can start a conversation around additional accessories and highlight that hearing aids are simply tools to help one hear. For example, “Hearing aids can help you here, here, and here but when listening here, hearing aids need help.”

I look forward to a future where hearing loss is treated more holistically, and hearing aids are seen by clients and professionals alike as simply tools for better hearing rather than the ultimate treatment for hearing loss. And I hope that once a few clients are courageous enough to use an ALD and reap the benefits, others, like as Dianne, will feel inspired to try this. Maybe one day it will be the norm to see people with hearing loss using a variety of additional accessories.