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Photo: granpa cupping his hand around his ear

“What’s that you said?”

People suffering from mild or extreme hearing loss can ask this question. Hearing aids can help now, but they will only work when properly used.

My sisters and I purchased a pair of hearing aids for our father but these proved to be ineffective. Dad had advancing Alzheimer’s disease and would have never remembered to insert the devices each morning. You might expect facility caregiving staff to make this happen; however, they often had other residents with other problems to deal with. In this case, the care staff may have classified hearing aids as low priority.

Undergoing a hearing test and choosing a hearing aid are just the beginning. Whether you have purchased a “Behind the ear” (BTE) or an “Inside the ear” (ITE) model, there is much to know about with regards to proper use, care, and maintenance.

If the hearing aids don't work for the wearer, they will end up unused or lost. Here are strategies to make sure hearing aids are worn after purchase.

Be Sure Wearing the Hearing Aids is Comfortable

Effectiveness: Seniors need time to get used to and adapt to new hearing aids. During this acclimatization period, a senior – essentially – relearns how to hear. This requires close work with your audiologist. Follow-up visits to the audiologist will be necessary to make necessary arrangements to volume, background noise filtering, fit and comfort.

Fit: Whether you have chosen a BTE or an ITE hearing aid, this must fit comfortably for best results. You’re looking for a snug fit – not a painful pinch.

Battery: All hearing aids operate with a small battery which needs regular changing. Depending on the severity of hearing loss, you may be replacing the battery once every three to ten days. For best results, your audiologist can show you the procedure of changing batteries. Before leaving the audiologist's office, try changing the batteries for yourself. You will want the procedure to run smoothly.

Hearing aid batteries are quite small and are best changed over a table or white sheet spread out on the floor. If you drop the battery, it will be easy to find! Batteries have a flat side and a raised side and will only fit in the hearing aid one way. If you find that the battery compartment door doesn’t close completely, don’t force it. Remove the batteries and insert them the other way. Take note that hearing aid batteries have a shelf life. Check the “best before” date on the battery package before purchasing.

Read: Hearing Aids, Hearing Loss and Audiologists

The senior may hear a whistling sound after you have replaced the batteries. If this occurs, chances are that the hearing aids are improperly placed. Try removing and replacing the hearing aids.

Placement: Hearing aids can be very different for each ear. Therefore, ensure that each hearing aid is in the correct ear. Identifying the two hearing aids is quite easy … look for colored spots or letters on each device. The blue spot (or the letter, “L”) means the left ear while the red spot (or the letter, “R”) means the right ear.

Volume: If the hearing aid has an external volume control, try adjusting this. Typically, if you turn the knob towards the user’s nose, you are increasing the volume level.

The Wearer's Activity Level: Does the person still join in any sport/activity? If so, certain types of hearing aids can be better than others. Wet hearing aids are ineffective. Remove these devices before showering/bathing, swimming, or walking out in the rain.

How To Best Care for Hearing Aids?

Storing: Keep your hearing aids secure in the provided storage case when they are not in use. Keep this case in the same spot to help with consistency in remembering.

Cleaning: A BTE hearing aid can be washed out with warm water and a mild soap. After washing it clean, allow the BTE hearing aid to dry thoroughly before use. An ITE hearing aid, however, needs more gentle care. Brush off any built-up earwax on your hearing aid. Wax can also build up inside the small tube on many hearing aids. You should find a short wire in your user’s kit. This wire can be gently pushed through the tube to remove this wax. Return your hearing aids to the audiologist every three to six months for a more thorough cleaning.

Troubleshooting Hearing Aids: Have the hearing aids ceased to work? Don't just toss them into the trash. Check to see if the senior is wearing them. The senior may also be wearing the aids incorrectly. When worn in the wrong ears, hearing aids can be ineffective. Alternatively, the volume control may be turned down. Has ear wax built up to cover the hearing aid’s air hole? Does the battery need to be replaced? More extensive troubleshooting can be done at the audiologist’s office. Expect numerous follow-up visits – the first of these will likely be within a month after your purchase.

Continued hearing loss can be confusing, frustrating, and even dangerous for seniors. The correct hearing aids and proper usage of these aids can improve the ability to hear and boost quality of life – for both the senior AND the family caregiver.

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About the Author(s)

As a former co-caregiver, Rick Lauber helped and supported his own aging parents. His mother had Parkinson's and Leukemia and his father had Alzheimer's. Rick learned that caregiving is challenging and used writing to personally cope.

His stories became two books, Caregiver's Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver's Guide.

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