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When Hearing Aids Can’t Do It All

We often hear people’s experiences with hearing aids, both good and bad. When the not-so-good experiences happen and the hearing aids are doing all they can, it is critical to understand how important it is to be an active listener.

Active listening training results in significant improvement with the common areas where hearing aids fail. Let’s start by breaking down how we hear versus how we listen. Hearing happens within the auditory system. This system is categorized by frequency and sends a very detailed signal of sound to the brain to interpret. The auditory system can become damaged for a variety of different reasons and can affect all different frequencies or only some frequencies. This results in hearing loss which is interpreted by listeners as being able to hear but often cannot understand speech.

In this situation, we generally recommend amplification (hearing aids) to help compensate for the hearing loss, just like eyewear compensates for a vision loss. Hearing aids amplify sound based on each person’s hearing loss, similar to an eyewear prescription. However, the brain is responsible for decoding the incoming information. When our brains can no longer efficiently decode the incoming sound, we hear individuals say the hearing aids do not help them hear. But, hearing is not black and white.

Even with the best hearing aids in the industry, we cannot compensate mechanically for a neurological deterioration. Therefore, it is imperative for success that we focus on learning active listening skills. Active listening training is helpful for those who have a slower processing speed, have difficulty dividing their attention, or difficulty with listening in noise.

The goal with active listening training is to develop good listening habits to improve confidence and to help individuals concentrate more on the meaning of the spoken message rather than just the speech sounds. This results in significant improvement in understanding speech in noise, ability to resolve communication breakdowns, and acceptance of hearing loss.

So here are some tips:

· Listen intently to the speaker, with concentration and focus

· Make eye contact and read body language and facial cues

· Think about what is being said and try to use context to figure out the words not understood

· Summarize out loud what the speaker has said

· When the speaker is done talking, ask for rephrasing statements rather than repetitions

· Don’t give up, listening takes practice

Tips for the speaker include:

· Do not exaggerate speech or talk too loudly

· Limit auditory distractions and noise

· Slow your speech rate

· Keep distance 6 feet or under

· Get the listener’s attention before starting the conversation

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