I'm in to my 3rd week of hearing aids now, and I've begun to adjust. The world doesn't sound quite as loud. In fact, things are beginning to sound "normal" with my aids in and unbearably quiet with them out. Here are some of my auditory observations:
-- Conversations are not just louder with my aids, they are also clearer. The individual sounds in words are so crisp and clear. It's like the over-enunciated speech stage actors use. It makes listening, and talking, more interesting.
-- I was afraid that hearing aids would completely change the way I heard my own speech, but they haven't. I still sound like myself, only clearer. Reading out loud sounds a bit like talking in a microphone, but in a good way.
--Speech is clearer, but other mouth-made noises are still unbearably loud. I have always known that my students made lots of noise, but I have now come to the conclusion that the majority of what comes out of preschoolers' mouths is not words. It's beeps, hums, barks, meows, car noises, fire truck sounds, monster noises, yells, screeches, and screams. And all of these noises are much worse with hearing aids. My students are noticing that I have a very low tolerance for these sounds. I haven't yet figured out what to do with my little guy with autism and his happy, high pitched shrieks.
--I had expected that being outside, especially when it was windy, would be more challenging with hearing aids. But it turns out that outdoor sounds are great. Wind noise isn't any louder than it was before. Occasionally, wind blows directly across the microphones on my aids and makes an annoying sounds, but just adjusting the tilt of my head fixes the problem.
-- I play in a bell choir and the first week I wore my aids during bell practice. It was totally overwhelming. The bells were just so LOUD. And the noise was uniformly loud - I couldn't tell the difference between playing quietly and playing loud. I had to judge dynamics by how hard I rang my bell. At a performance later that week I just played without my hearing aids and that solved the problem. But by rehearsal last week, the bells seemed muffled when I didn't wear my aids. Now that I have adjusted to my aids more, I'll try wearing them while I am playing and see if it's better now.
--Music is a new experience. Recorded music or music on the radio sounds wonderful. I hear the pitches better and the lyrics make a lot more sense. Live music is still an adjustment. Choirs or orchestras or groups of people singing or playing together are great. Individual voices are okay, but don't have as full a sound as I had remembered. Single notes played on instruments are really distorted sounding. The organ at church, a sound I used to love, sounds tinny and off, somehow. I think I hear the sound with my ear and then a fraction of a second later I hear it through my hearing aids, so I get an odd and annoying distortion. I hope this gets better with time.
--I have discovered that my memory of sounds doesn't always match the new reality of what I hear. I recognize voices perfectly. But other sounds are so different that I'm not always sure of what I'm hearing. I'm still sorting through the differences between the watery sounds of the washing machine, water running after a toilet has been flushed, and the outdoor faucet turned on to run a sprinkler. Katherine and I went to the symphony yesterday and I had to listen carefully to distinguish instruments. At one point, I took my hearing aids out verify that yes, that really was a flute. I used to play flute, it's a sound I remember clearly, but what I hear now sounds just different enough that I wasn't sure. I had to do the same thing to tell an oboe from a bassoon - they are just different now. I am having to create new sound maps in my brain. I know that eventually I will forget my old sound memories and accept the new-and-improved sounds as just what a flute or a washing machine sounds like.
--I have noticed that without my aids, I hear even less than I did. I also have more difficulty following conversations than before and much more frustration for what I can't hear. I am already dependent on my hearing aids. I don't want to spend a day without them, now. I've had the chance to join the world of sound and I don't ever want to go back!
I would imagine that my experiences are similar to anyone adjusting to hearing aids. Since mine are of the new wave of hearing aids, I also have the advantage of trying out new technology with them.
--My hearing aids are controlled by my iPhone. If sounds are too loud I pull out my phone, pull up the hearing aid app, and slide the volume down. All digital hearing aids have some sort of controller, often resembling a simple TV remote. My just happens to be on my phone, which is almost always with me.
--The hearing aid app has special settings for different situations or locations. The restaurant setting dims the sound of dishes clinking or people chatting across the room and lets me hear conversations at my table easier. The car setting lowers the sounds of road and wind noise, while still letting me hear the radio and conversation within the car. I'm even figuring out how to use these settings in nontraditional ways. At a staff meeting in the computer lab last week, I was distracted by humming computer towers and the roar of the air conditioner. I pulled out my phone, switched my aids to the car setting, and turned down those noises so that I could hear my fellow teachers. It worked great!
--Perhaps the coolest thing about these particular hearing aids is that they run through my phone's Bluetooth. That means that if I watch a video on my phone or take a phone call, the sound actually comes through my aids. It makes talking on the phone SO much nicer. I have, however, startled people nearby when my muted phone rings. I can hear the phone ring in my aids, but no one else hears anything. So I appear to just randomly start talking to an unseen person when I answer. I LOVE this feature!