How I Found an Audiologist Who Could Hear Me
Hearing loss can be a scary experience, even when there is no reason to expect that it will get worse. When I realized my hearing loss was progressing, I was frightened. I turned to my audiologist, who until that point had only needed to provide me with an annual audiogram confirming that my hearing loss was stable. This time, after eight years with about 50 percent hearing loss, my hearing in both ears had dropped significantly.
My audiologist turned up my hearing aids to the level that matched my pattern of loss and I was left with aids that produced a consistently loud and unpleasant buzzing sound. To my surprise, she informed me this was the best she could do. I went to a second audiologist and was given a trial pair of new hearing aids. When he programmed them to match my pattern of loss, the buzzing returned again. At this point, I began to feel a seed of hopelessness being planted inside me that I would not be able to hear adequately again without a loud mechanical buzz, and chronic exhaustion from trying to hear through it.
I went to a third audiologist at my HMO who informed me the appointment, which I had waited eight weeks for, was just a consultation and I would need to schedule a fitting which she was booking about eight more weeks out. This third audiologist was compassionate about my situation, and suggested a colleague of hers whom she believed would be able to help me and would be able to see me sooner.
The fourth audiologist carefully and thoughtfully fitted me with trial aids. When I said I liked them, she fitted me with another pair of trial aids because she believed they might be even better! The new aids with their peaceful lack of buzz and much more adequate hearing support have given me back my life. I recently had coffee with a friend who informed me that her daughter also went through a similar period of dimming hope with her own hearing loss when she was unable to find an audiologist to help her. She too found the fourth try to be a charm.
I am writing this story to help other people dealing with tricky or progressive hearing loss to find the charm on the first try instead of the fourth! Rather than trying to guess based on my own experience how others with hearing loss might maximize the chances of getting their needs met, I asked my audiologist to chime in and she gave the thoughtful response below for me to share with The Mighty readers.
From Dr. Kimberly Lavoie:
“In the consultation with the audiologist, I would start with where you have difficulties having hearing impairment. Where does it impact you most? Professionally, personal relationships, with tricky acoustics (in the classroom for example), or in unpredictable situations like strangers at the grocery store. This kind of gives an idea for the technology level of filtering the hearing device should have.
Tell the clinician about your personality. This sounds weird, but different hearing devices have different features we need to match with the personality. Some of the devices are very sensitive, some over-sensitive for people who are a bit obsessive-compulsive like me. Some devices will depend on patient manipulation of the settings, changing programs, frequency manipulation; this is especially important for engineers. Some devices are automatic and make choices for you — if you want to just forget about them and let the HA make the decision for you. Also, if you have manual dexterity issues, that can be a big factor in device selection.
Next, describe any past experiences with hearing aids. Were aesthetics an issue? Was feedback a problem in the past?
Tell the audiologist about the positives with previous devices. What did you like best about products you have tried? We want to be sure to keep these features if possible.
Finally, there are hearing aid dispensers and audiologists with master’s or doctorate degrees. As an AuD myself, I can say that education gives us many unique perspectives on patient care that a simple dispenser does not have in obtaining their certificate.”
Look for someone who is invested in and committed to working with you in answering these questions. You may save lots of time, energy, money, and the emotional resources it takes to maintain hope when you can’t hear. It seems that with some types and patterns of hearing loss, it is a normal experience to struggle with finding the right audiologist. Don’t give up! Your doctor is out there, and they want you to live your best life.