Aural Augmentation

With a proper introduction, hearing aid use and satisfaction improves.

Helen Keller considered being deaf “a much worse misfortune” than her blindness, for it meant, she wrote, “the loss of the most vital stimulus — the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.”

Keller, of course, grew up in a world without sound. More common is the diminution of aural acuity suffered by adults over the age of 65, elders who find themselves dealing with desultory effects Keller would have instantly recognized: discomfiture, frustration, and isolation from friends and family.

“Older adults don’t wish to be told they’re confused,” says Kari Lane, an assistant professor of nursing at MU whose research involves acutecare and gerontological issues. “Yet, not being able to understand what is being said, or missing out on conversations, can cause the perception of confusion. This can lead to social isolation and deteriorating relationships.” Hearing aids can help. But too often they go unused by seniors unhappy with their effectiveness. A recent study by Lane suggests changing the way users are introduced to the devices could improve satisfaction levels.

During a clinical trial, Lane used what’s called the Hearing Aid Reintroduction (HEAR) program to help a small sample of older adults — all of whom had given up on their devices — adopt a slower, more systematic hearing-aid introduction than is typical. With HEAR, she explains, the duration of hearing-aid use increases slowly from one hour on day 1 to 10 hours on day 30. HEAR also takes into account the different environments that affect hearing and exposure to different sounds. Before the HEAR intervention, all participants indicated unhappiness with their hearing aids. After completing HEAR, 87.5 percent reported being satisfied.

“Those with hearing aids currently sitting in drawers should seek assistance in getting their hearing aids to work for them,” says Lane. “They should go back to their audiologist for a readjustment and keep going back until it works.” The study was published in the journal Clinical Nursing.

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