I can’t hear in situations with background noise. Will hearing aids help?
One of the most common problems people have with their hearing is an inability to hear in situations with competing background noise, such as a restaurant environment. In quiet settings, and one-on-one situations there can be very little difficulty understanding conversation, but in the presence of four or five people comprehension can dramatically decline. This is what is known as the ‘cocktail party’ effect.
Will hearing aids help? The short answer is yes. But there are many factors that will determine the amount of benefit someone with hearing loss will experience with hearing aids. These factors include the severity of hearing loss, cognitive ability, the type of hearing aid that is worn, and finally how the hearing aids are tuned to an individual’s hearing loss.
Hearing in noisy environment is a very complex task that is largely related to how well our brains process information. We hear with our ears, but understand with our brain. Our ears funnel information to our brain, and our brain makes sense of it. Unfortunately this cognitive ability declines in many individuals as early as 30 years of age! That is why so many people with normal hearing levels still cannot ‘hear’ very well in situations with heavy noise.
Your hearing is unique as your fingerprint. No two people experience sound in the same way. There are six major hearing aid manufacturers and while all produce good products, they all differ in how they handle this ‘cocktail party effect’. Some people may hear considerably better and greatly prefer the sound quality of one brand over another. This is why it is helpful to choose a hearing clinic that offers a variety of brands.
In some cases, hearing aids alone may not be effective enough to combat this cocktail party effect. Separate accessories, called FM systems or Bluetooth microphone systems, can be used with hearing aids to filter unwanted noise and aid in speech comprehension. A microphone transmitter can be placed on a table in a busy restaurant, and the speech from friends and family at the table passes directly into the hearing aids cutting through the background noise.
Obviously, the more severe the hearing loss and the poorer the cognitive ability in an individual, the less success we can expect from hearing aids. That is why the selection of the right hearing aid and getting it tuned optimally for hearing loss is so important. Sometimes all it takes is a little programming adjustment that can make a major improvement in a hearing aid wearer’s ability to comprehend in noise. We can’t control how our ears hear and how our brains comprehend, but we can control who we see to select our hearing aids and how they are tuned.