If you have ever had a hearing test you may remember seeing your results on a chart called an audiogram. One side has the decibel scale and the other side has the frequency scale. Basically, we test the quietest sounds that you can hear at each pitch. While it’s a time honoured way to plot hearing sensitivity, sometimes it can be a bit technical.
I would like to suggest another way to think about your hearing test. To start with, keep these two points in mind.
#1 Think of the test more as a measurement, not a test.
#2 Think of your ears as windows.
Your hearing system includes a computer (the brain), wires (the nerves), and sensors (the ears) which we can also call “windows”.
Now, ideally your ear window is supposed to be a certain size to allow the brain to get adequate sound information. We call this your range of hearing.
When a person has hearing loss, it’s as if the window has become smaller. For some it’s just slightly reduced and for others it’s drastically reduced…sort of like a ship porthole. Complete deafness is when there is no longer a functional hearing window.
During a hearing test we measure the size of the window, the quality of the hearing that you do have (kind of like how clear the “glass” is), and compare it to full size windows (good hearing ranges) to understand both what you do hear and what you don’t.
Now, why is this a good way to think about a hearing test?
Because it helps us to understand better what hearing aids do and don’t do.
First off, hearing aids don’t fix the ears/windows, they squeeze more into the hearing range that you have left.
Next, imagine shrinking a picture. This is essentially what modern hearing aids do very well. For some this works like magic making them to feel that they hear everything again. For others it causes new problems. Just like a shrunk photo becomes distorted, so can a shrunk soundscape to some degree.
Part of the process of fitting hearing aids is to adjust them by both shrinking the sound picture to hear more and cropping it to reduce distortion. We also watch for how clear the sound is and help you to use other tools and tricks to manage these challenges.
If this is starting to sound a little complex, the bottom line is that we have to work with each person individually to figure out how much sound they can handle getting squeezed into their uniquely reduced window. Sometimes we can get lots of it back in, sometimes just a portion. That said, even adding back a portion of what’s been lost can go a long way to helping you communicate with greater ease.
I encourage you to watch the video above where you’ll see some images of my Great Dane puppy that will help to illustrate what I’m talking about in terms of your hearing “window”.