My hearing aids were shorting out. The issue was accompanied by a popping sensation in my ears — like when you change altitude in a plane. I assumed I had allergies or a cold, but when this happened repeatedly over a period of weeks, I knew a detailed conversation with my audiologist was needed. In that chat, I learned that the actual problem was fluid build-up behind my aids, which are worn deep inside my ear canal. This is a common problem, but it was a new one to me, even after more than 20 years of wearing hearing aids! The only solution is taking a break from the aids so the ear can dry out.
While this was certainly inconvenient, I was happy to have an explanation and a remedy. Together, my audiologist and I devised a way for me to handle this situation on my own should it recur. By working together, we solved my problem and created an action plan for the future. If only all audiologist-patient relationships worked this well all the time.
The patient-audiologist relationship is a shared responsibility
The audiologist-patient relationship can be a tricky one, with the two groups sometimes feeling like they are at cross-purposes. Patients want solutions for their communication problems, while audiologists often seem to focus on the technical aspects and selling hearing aids. Patients are disappointed that their hearing aids don’t work well in all situations, but many audiologists do not provide any alternatives. It can feel like a constant battle of wills, but it should not be. A strong working relationship between audiologist and patient is a win for everyone.
Like most relationships, the patient-audiologist one is a shared obligation, requiring work from both sides. It takes time to develop and strengthen. Both patients and audiologists must understand and respect the important knowledge that each side brings to the table. The best outcomes require both perspectives.
Audiologists provide expertise in hearing science, proven methods and tools for evaluating hearing loss, and deep knowledge of traditional hearing aid technologies. The best audiologists are also well versed on a variety of assistive listening devices that can be used to augment hearing aids in difficult listening environments.
Patients bring their unique perspective on their own hearing difficulties, their listening situation priorities, and lip-reading and technological skills. Only patients truly experience their hearing challenges, making them a critical component in the equation.
My strongest audiologist relationships have been my most recent ones, partly because I now have a better understanding of what I am seeking from an audiologist. You can read my tips for finding the right audiologist for you here.
What can patients do to support this partnership
There are many reasons why audiologists should partner with their patients, but it is equally true that patients must collaborate with their audiologists. It takes two to tango. Below I share several ways patients can help support this critical partnership.
1. Share you hearing loss story and struggles. This is not the time to play tough guy. The more you reveal about your personal challenges, the more information your audiologist will have when planning possible solutions.
2. Come armed with facts. Keep detailed notes about how you are hearing in a variety of situations with your hearing aids so you can assist your audiologist with any fine-tuning that needs to be done. The more specific data you can provide — the location, time of day, communication partner, decibel reading, etc. — the better.
3. Leave your anger at home. Hearing loss is very frustrating and while hearing aids do help a lot, they are not perfect solutions. Try to maintain an analytical attitude towards your communication issues. Anger won’t solve problems, but it may prevent you from finding a creative solution.
4. Properly maintain your hearing devices. Sometimes this can be cumbersome, especially if there are small parts that must be removed and cleaned, but keeping your aids in top condition will help you hear your best and show your audiologist that you are serious about your hearing.
5. Respect your audiologists’ training and expertise. While you know the most about your experiences and communication desires, audiologists possess time-tested diagnostic tools and programming methods. Blending the two areas of expertise is the best way to find a dynamic solution that works for you.
6. Honor your journey. Your relationship with your hearing loss and your audiologist may change over time as you accept your hearing difficulties and learn the types of assistance that you need. Don’t be afraid to share new insights with your audiologist along the way.
7. Teach what you know. When you discover new tricks or useful apps that made hearing easier for you in a certain situation, share them with your audiologist, who can then spread the word to other patients. You can benefit from other’s tips and tricks too.
Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She is the founder of LivingWithHearingLoss.com, an online community for people living with hearing loss and tinnitus. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.