Q&A: How do I know if I need to wear hearing aids?

Dear Audiologist,
I noticed recently that I struggle to hear my wife when we go out. I thought perhaps my ears were blocked with ear wax, so I went to a general practitioner clinic to get them cleaned. However, the general practitioner did not find any wax in my ears! Instead, he mentioned that I probably have a natural deterioration in hearing due to age and there was nothing he could do.
Subsequently, I visited a hearing aid shop in Singapore. I was told that I have a hearing loss and need hearing aids. I don’t want hearing aids as I don’t think my hearing is that bad. Also the general practitioner I visited did not suggest hearing aids.
How do I know if I need to wear hearing aids?
Mr Tan

Dear Mr Tan,

One of the most common questions among patients is how bad should hearing loss be before considering getting hearing aids. Unfortunately, I am unable to answer your question without doing a comprehensive hearing assessment.

Hearing loss is complicated

There are many aspects of hearing loss that can be quickly determined by a hearing test. A basic hearing test will be able to tell you 2 things about your hearing loss:

  • The type of hearing loss (Is it treatable or non-treatable?)
  • The severity of the hearing loss (Is it mild, moderate, severe or profound?)

However there are some aspects of hearing loss that cannot be determined with basic hearing tests. One such aspect is perceived handicap

What is perceived handicap?

Perceived handicap tells us how an individual is affected by his/her hearing loss. The higher the perceived handicap, the more inclined a person is to get hearing aids. 

Let’s look at two adults, named Bob and Amy. Both of them have the same hearing loss.

However, Bob is considerably more affected by his hearing loss than Amy: Bob says his life has changed drastically ever since his hearing deteriorated.  Amy, on the other hand, is not affected by her hearing loss.

From their statements, we can conclude that Bob has a greater perceived handicap than Amy.

How is this possible?

Bob works at the Central Business District and is always surrounded by people. After work, he frequents restaurants and shopping malls with his family. His lifestyle requires him to communicate with different groups of people in noisy environments.

Amy has a quieter lifestyle. She avoids crowds and enjoys the occasional catch up with one or two friends. She spends her weekends strolling in the park by herself. She watches Korean drama but relies on subtitles to understand the dialogue. Her lifestyle does not demand she hears clearly all the time.

An individual’s lifestyle, health, relationships and environment will affect the perceived handicap.

Can people with low perceived handicap still benefit from hearing aids?

If a person has hearing loss, he or she can still benefit from hearing aids even with low perceived handicap. The benefits include: better quality of life, physical health, self-esteem, improved social life.

Conversely, untreated hearing loss can result in negative consequences.

Consult an audiologist

If you are seeking a second or third opinion for your hearing loss, it is an indication that it is affecting your lifestyle and quality of life significantly.

In such cases, it is recommended you visit an audiology centre for a hearing aid assessment. An audiology centre has trained audiologists who will assess your hearing loss, communication needs, and motivation before recommending the right treatment.

Additionally, you can raise to them any concerns you may have with hearing aids, and request for a hearing aid trial. This allows you to test the benefits of hearing aids and familiarize yourself with how hearing aids benefit you.

Ultimately, hearing aids can only be fitted when both you and the audiologist agree to it. It does not necessarily mean you will be fitted with hearing aids if you undergo a hearing aid assessment.

Involve family members

You may consider bringing immediate family members to the hearing aid assessment.

Often, family members are the first to notice any signs of hearing loss. Involving your family members allows them to raise concerns or share difficulties they face with your hearing loss. This may help you better decide if hearing aids is the better option for you.

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