Everything you ever wanted your audiologist to know…

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Hearing Elmo always welcomes guest authors. Although this site is a place of information and support for all types of disabilities and invisible illnesses, once in awhile an author has a very specific “hearing” topic. I know few individuals with more consumer experience with hearing loss advocacy and support than Judy Martin. She is my friend as well and fellow “heartstring” (a long story). If you have a good working relationship with your audiologist, this is a great article to pass along! 

Everything you ever wanted your audiologist to know . . .

Late last year, the Florida Academy of Audiologists (FLAA) and the Hearing Loss Association of Florida (HLA-FL) formally agreed to a partnership to encourage a fuller understanding of each other. Articles are planned for each other’s newsletters; Noel Crosby, my counterpart in FLAA, suggested my topic describe what consumers would like their audiologists to know.

– Judy G. Martin, Immediate Past President)

As I stand in front of my imaginary class, I’m aware that all the people in attendance have some degree of hearing loss. Some use hearing aids, cochlear implants or assistive listening devices. Many proudly display their multi-colored devices while others are more discreet – each according to their needs, wishes, or personality. We are brought together by one commonality, though, the desire to hear better. For some, it is an old journey, and for others a newly-begun one.

This class may be the figment of my imagination, but it is filled with real people from around the country. Inspired by one person’s remark of what the perfect audiologist would be like (thank you, Paul), I ask “students” to discuss how their provider could be the most helpful as far as their hearing loss is concerned. (Of course, we would be willing to know how we can be the perfect consumer, a subject for another time.)

Paul, from Michigan, speaks up first and says his idea of perfection would be the audi who is knowledgeable about Hearing Assistance Technology (HAT); about the t-coil and the ways it can be used; and at least some familiarity with Bluetooth and FM; and where to find products to assist with telephone, cell phones, TV, meetings and communication. If a hearing loop is set up in the office, he would be able to hear the receptionist. If not a loop, then a willingness to let him make and confirm appointments via e-mail. This perfect person would be compassionate and willing to share information about the ADA, hearing loss groups, and hearing loss counselors. Many first-time hearing aid users are at the beginning of a scary learning curve and in a vulnerable position. And finally, he or she could be proactive in helping him to understand the fitting and adjustment process.

Jimm, who lives in New York, has a short and sweet idea: his audiologist would make the perfect earmold!

Having a receptionist who doesn’t whisper is the fond wish of Betty, from Delaware. Soft- spoken office workers, or those who don’t face the patient, strike terror in the hearts of those with hearing loss. Hearing loss-related news and magazines (especially, ahem, the HLAA Hearing Loss Magazine) would be quite beneficial when placed in the offices of audiologists and ENTs.

Sarah, Illinois, agrees that hearing loss information and magazines are so important in addition to helping find outside support groups. She also wishes that audiologists were affiliated with HLAA or a local chapter. Sarah suggests that attendance at an HLAA Convention would be beneficial as it is totally patient-oriented, in that everything is seen from the viewpoint of the consumer. She believes a little more explanation of what to expect when purchasing a hearing aid is something that would be helpful to her or knowing the importance of adjustments. (A journal kept by the consumer would be helpful here, making notes on what noises are bothersome, which need to have volume increased or decreased.)

Making sure that every hearing aid, unless it’s too small, leaves the audi’s office with a manual t-coil included. Since the t-coil can at least double the benefits of the aid, Germaine, a resident of Florida, says it’s important it have a volume control. Automatic volume control works well in many cases, but too often the experienced user wants and needs to override the control – a combination of both would be good. All that said, since t-coils are used with phones, both landline and cell, looping technology, FM, Bluetooth and other assistive listening technology, no self-respecting hearing aid should leave home without it. She hopes that the hearing instrument provider’s office will have copies of HLAA’s consumer checklist for purchasing hearing aids.

Laura, in New Jersey, agrees and also wishes that the importance of manual t-coils be uppermost in everyone’s mind.

Jennifer, from Pennsylvania, wishes the idea of hiding hearing aids was not promoted because it adds to the perceived stigma. Advertising which promises invisible hearing aids works at cross-purposes with HLAA’s mission to provide awareness of our invisible disability. She also thinks that more familiarity with the BAHA device for persons with single-sided deafness will guide those for whom the traditional aids won’t work.

Richard, who resides in Florida, believes a high number of hearing aid consumers are not conversant in discussing or understanding their own audiograms. Much of the relevant information available is written on a level beyond the comprehension of some consumers. Perhaps a brochure or flyer could be created to explain to all so they would understand their own degree of hearing loss and become audiogram literate!

From Montana, Tamie seconds the motion that professionals be educated about the importance of t-coils. She reached that conclusion when a new audi in town donated headphones for those with hearing loss to a local live theater. They were the kind which required the removal of one’s hearing aids.

Audiologists provide an invaluable service in the treatment of hearing loss, says Ed from Florida, but he wishes there was more proactivity in the education and advocacy process. It would be so helpful for the audiologist to initiate a discussion about hearing loops, captioning, cell phone usage or the Hearing Loss Association of America. Suggesting to new patients, who obviously need support, that they try a local HLAA chapter would help eliminate much bewilderment. It would be desirable for audiologists to take the lead on important advocacy missions such as being the first to install a loop in their offices. He goes on to say that since so much of his support comes from HLAA and other outside sources, he wishes treatment could be seen as a team sport because so much support is needed.

Also from Florida, Joan thinks audiologists could tell patients they need an aid large enough to accommodate t-coils even though the user may think differently. Spending time explaining why this tiny device is so important and how some of the applications of the t-coil will benefit the user is greatly needed. Hearing in noise and recruitment are two major problems professionals can explain in laymen’s terms even before the patient is troubled by them. If audis sell equipment such as FM and Bluetooth systems, it is imperative they be able to instruct patients in their effective use. Finally, Joan wishes that professionals would tell users about HLAA and the availability of a local chapter. She doesn’t believe that any audiologist today is unaware of the value of support groups for their patients.

Judy from Ohio said her ideal audiologist would keep current with the latest news and devices. She suggests joining a consumer online forum to learn what’s on the mind of people who have hearing loss. Judy sent her hubby (a newbie) off to have his hearing tested and when he inquired about t-coils at her behest, he was told that “they are not being used much any more because people are getting away from that.”

Cheryl, who lives in Florida, takes a different tack and says consumers should realize it takes patience and perseverance to use a hearing aid and a good result comes from numerous adjustments. Hearing aid users should not put their aids on the shelf or in a drawer as they need to be used daily. She also believes the consumer should know about the t-coil, how it works and where it works.

California resident, Cindy, hopes the high cost of her devices would include minor technical service, adjustments and guidance for a specific period of time. She would appreciate the audis being knowledgeable about the products they sell and being able offer instructions about warranties. She’d like it if the professional would listen to her, ask her questions and know that, in her eyes, they are as important in her life as her primary care physician or her eye doctor. After being successfully fitted, Cindy would like repairs to be made as quickly as possible even if returning them to the manufacturer is required.

Programming aids according to the user’s needs and real world feedback, not factory- recommended settings, is the wish of Tamara, who lives in Texas. She hopes they will take the time to share their knowledge about t-coils and the less expensive non-proprietary assistive listening technology. Further, she would like to be instructed about financial assistance, payment/ financing options and government assistance programs. To her, it would be extremely beneficial to offer listening therapy, living-with-hearing-loss classes, education for spouses and family members in addition to giving advice on support groups which would address the social and emotional factors.

My imaginary class ends on a high note with everyone agreeing that hearing loss professionals cannot be all things to all people. They believe that most audiologists are already well-rounded in their knowledge and possess a willingness to help. These suggestions are offered in hope that they might help fill in the gaps.

by: Judy Schefcick Martin

 

 

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