Where do hearing aids work at their best? In a restaurant? Out at the park? At a play? In a one-on-one conversation? If you’re considering getting hearing aids, you want to know whether they’ll help you in the settings where you’re struggling to hear.
A group of researchers from Indiana University led a study to find out how useful hearing aids are to the average user, what conditions they worked best in, and what users could do to improve their experience.
Here’s what they found.
Researchers study the effects of wearing hearing aids for an extended period
The study included 193 adults. They broke the participants into 2 groups.
- 128 people who had been wearing their hearing aids for 6 weeks
- 65 people who had been wearing their hearing aids for 13 months (a little over a year)
Why did they break the groups into those who have worn hearing aids for some time and those who haven’t? It’s because there are two very important things you should know about wearing a device that helps you hear.
- In the beginning, there’s a transition period where you program your hearing aids to different hearing environments, like a noisy restaurant or a quiet library. Over time these are refined to your hearing needs. So the longer you’ve worn them, the more likely it’s set to your specifications.
- The hearing aid wearer also “re-learns” how to hear and understand.
Yes, if you wait too long to get hearing aids, your brain begins to “unlearn” how to hear. It has to get this ability back once you start wearing hearing technology. Re-learning how to hear takes 8 or more weeks of consistently using your hearing aids. The more you wear them, the better you hear.
The hearing aid study: Determining sound conditions
The study conducted was observational. Hearing environments were tracked by a microphone that picked up short 4-second recordings throughout the day.
As the microphones were picking up the sound conditions, the hearing aids were as well. Modern hearing aids adapt to the environment you’re in, whether it’s:
- A noisy restaurant
- A busy grocery store
- A theater or symphony hall
- A quiet park
- Watching TV
- Your living room trying to have a conversation
- On the phone
- Going for a walk
- And more
Some hearing aids are able to track your exact location, but even models that don’t are still able to pick up on signals from your environment so they can automatically adjust settings.
Researchers compared actual hearing conditions to what the hearing aids “heard” and rated how well they were able to adapt.
Hearing aids are likely to be in optimal conditions 75% of the time
The study found that hearing aid wearers spend 60% of their time in quiet places with occasional low conversation. The next most common condition included what the researchers called speech places. In these places, participants were listening to the TV, radio, or having normal-volume conversations.
Most participants spent very little time in high noise environments where even people with “normal” hearing would have trouble hearing or understanding a conversation.
All in all, they found that hearing aid wearers spend around 75% of their time in speech or quiet places where hearing aids work well.
Why this study is so significant
Only around 25% of people who would benefit from hearing aids wear them. One reason those who need hearing aids don’t get them is that they wrongly believe hearing aids won’t help them.
This scientific study shows that, in fact, hearing aid wearers spend the vast majority of their time in places where hearing aids are very effective. And hearing aids are able to very quickly and reliably determine what conditions a person is in to help you hear at your best in any environment.
Researchers discovered something else very interesting. The people who had been wearing their hearing aids for 13 months or more wore their hearing aids nearly 30% more than the newer wearers. They wore them for 9.1 hours per day compared to 6.5 hours for the newer aid users.
The longer a person wears a hearing aid, the more they are able to hear and the more they recognize the benefits of wearing it throughout the day. The length of time a person wore their hearing aids (both in terms of hours per day and in months) determined how well they were able to hear in any condition.