Opinion | A Professional Perspective
Thoughts from a hearing care professional with hearing impairment on hearing aid benefits not often discussed with patients
Editor’s note: The following was taken from the July 1996 Hearing Review article, “Sighs & Whispers,” when the author was the president of the Hearing Aid Association of Kentucky (HAAK) and owner of Pikeville Otologic Testing in Pikeville, Ky. Although it is 15 years old and written for hearing healthcare professionals of that time (and about the technology of the time), we think much of what the author says remains true today and contains great points for everyone to consider.
By Robert L. Furby, MS
Over the past year, I have worked with several manufacturers of completely-in-the-ear (CIC) hearing aids and personally used CICs from two of them for my own hearing loss. I have reported many of the impressions concerning their use obtained through personal experiences, as well as my patients’ reported experiences. I have tried to be as unbiased as a hearing-impaired individual can be, and my personal opinion is that—when comfortably fit, deep and snug, and power requirements for the losses are obtainable—CICs are the best thing going. I recommend them to all who are interested when the fit is appropriate.
I have also become aware of at least one benefit from CICs that has proven most enjoyable: emotion in speech. Previous hearing aids I have worn allowed me to hear emotional differences as more-or-less adjustments in volume. The improved acoustic properties of deep-fitting CICs allow more to be heard by the ear and more definitive interpretation of the incoming verbal signals, including the nuances of emotion (eg, happy, sad, mad, etc).
As I approach young adulthood (mid-forties), I find that more and more of my patients are my age or younger. This allows me to share information of importance to my patients in a fairly comfortable manner, usually without undo embarrassment to myself or others. Many of my patients are men with whom I have a great deal in common: sports, hunting, hearing loss, etc. These commonalities give us an opportunity to talk. It’s surprising what you learn in if you take the time to listen and happen to have the insight/empathy that a hearing impairment can give you.
One aspect that is becoming increasingly apparent to me is the importance of hearing your spouse’s/partner’s whispered dialog during intimate moments. As with most conversations, your reaction depends on your mood, frame of mind, how you feel, and who you are with. We must also assume your hearing is normal/adequate and you are attuned to receiving the little quips, quotes, questions, and comments that may occur.
Now, assume you are hearing-impaired and, for whatever reason, have not received help. Has the importance of the whispered dialog changed? No. You still must choose to listen or ignore the conversation. It just becomes more difficult to make an informed decision. If we, as hearing care professionals, were to hear these complaints, we would most likely suggest the use of some form of amplification to enhance hearing acuity and understanding abilities.
If we assume that hearing whispered or soft communication patterns between significant others are important to normal family relations, then how important are the whispered “sweet nothings” during significantly more private times? Would they mean as much to a hearing-impaired individual? My respondents report yes!
At the risk of being accused of overstepping the bounds of a well-respected trade journal and entering into the realm of sex therapy or counseling—an area where we don’t belong and are not qualified—should we as professionals concerned with communication report to our patients the benefits of wearing their amplification during sex? I feel that the answer to this question is yes, if it possible to do so without undo embarrassment for the parties involved (ie, distributing this article in an information packet may be enough in most cases).
I find it disconcerting that we tell people to take their hearing aids off when they go to bed; the hearing-impaired individual misses out on an extremely important dimension of their physical and social communication and interaction: audition. Isn’t it important for you to be able to hear your spouse/partner’s wants, needs, and enjoyment?
Admittedly, the advent of CIC technology, the first hearing aids that easily allow effective use during reclining and physical activity, has opened my eyes about a few things previously not noticed or remembered that I believe need to be said:
- There is more verbal and non-verbal communication occurring during private times which the hearing-impaired individual may not be receiving at volumes loud enough for full interpretation, and
- As hearing care professionals, we must be clear in what we mean when we instruct our patients to “Always take your hearing aids out when you go to bed.” When we give this advice, we limit the patient’s enjoyment in an important aspect of their social functioning and intimate relationship.
As we continue to make greater advances in hearing technology, we must not lose sight of the fact that we, the hearing aid specialists, audiologists, and dispensing physicians, are an integral part of the acceptance of the hearing aid by the hearing-impaired individual. We must provide them with truthful, accurate information to aid their adjustment in utilizing amplification…The ability to hear affects everything…everything!
Original citation: Furby RL. Sighs and whispers. Hearing Review. 1996[Jul];3(7):21-22.
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