Beyond the minimum skill and service provided to hearing aid clients, the “good” professional focuses on being a health care provider, rather than the seller of a product. You should look for a hearing care professional who will take the time to find out about how your hearing affects your lifestyle, figure out which of the many hearing aid options best fits your needs, and provide regular aftercare services to ensure you continue to get the best from your devices.
The dispenser examining your hearing will first ask you a number of open-ended questions about how hearing loss affects your life every day; try to be as specific about your hearing requirements and hearing problem as possible. You and your family may have filled in a self-assessment questionnaire before your first visit. The dispenser will inquire about how you spend your day and where you notice the most difficulty in hearing. He or she will want to observe your dexterity in handling aids and batteries. Expect other questions about medications, pain, drainage, surgery, dizziness, ringing in your ears, family history of hearing problems, and prior experience with aids.
The dispenser will conduct a series of tests to determine the type and extent of your hearing loss. You will sit in a sound-controlled booth and wear earphones. The dispenser will ask you to push a button or raise your hand when you hear a tone or a word. Typical tests include pure tone air conduction, speech reception threshold, and sometimes word recognition tests.
One typical test that you will take on your first visit is the pure tone air conduction audiometry. This test determines how well you hear at different frequencies. The audiometer produces a range of pure tones of varying frequency [or pitch, called Hertz (Hz)] and intensity [loudness, called decibels (dB)].
Your test results are recorded on a graph called an audiogram. If your hearing is normal, your audiogram would show a fairly straight line across the top, from 250 Hz (low bass sounds) to 8000 Hz (high treble sounds). The typical audiogram for someone with age-related hearing loss slopes downward to the right, usually at about the 1000 Hz level, indicating that the greatest hearing loss is in the higher ranges.
Do not hesitate to ask the purpose of each test before you receive it and for an explanation of all test results.
Depending on the style of hearing aids that are recommended, the dispenser may also take an ear impression by inserting a soft plastic mould in your ear canal. This mould, indicating the exact conformation of your ear canal, is used to shape your hearing aid.
After conducting the assessment tests, the dispenser will meet with you and your family to review the test findings and identify areas where you have difficulty hearing. The dispenser will talk with you about what you can realistically expect from a hearing aid, as well as explain any limits that can’t be helped even with an aid.
There is more to a successful hearing aid fitting than just selling you a product. After your dispenser tests your hearing, recommends a specific hearing aid, and adjusts it to your hearing pattern, you should expect the dispenser to teach you how to insert your aid, turn it on, set the volume, use it with the telephone, listen to television or hear in different listening environments, take it out, clean and store it, and change the batteries.
You will also get clear instructions—orally and in writing— on how many hours per day you should wear your new aid initially and how to handle any problems. Your family should learn how to assist you as a new user. You should also be given information on assistive listening devices, your choices of batteries, manufacturer’s warranty, and repair costs.
Be sure you understand why the hearing care professional recommends a particular type of hearing aid. Make sure it has the features you need and that you will be completely trained to use them.
Understand all follow-up care instructions and schedule follow-up visits. Schedule a follow-up visit to make sure you have a satisfactory fit. During this session, the specialist will make any adjustments, and answer any questions. You should always keep your half yearly appointments to ensure the aid is working well and is still effective for your hearing loss which may change over the years.