Be realistic about hearing aid expectations
THE Australian health system places too much emphasis on technology as a means of dealing with hearing loss while ignoring the need for people to learn new ways of social interaction, an Australian National University expert has said.
Dr Anthony Hogan has spent 25 years in the field and has designed programs to teach people new ways of listening to help them counteract the worst social effects of hearing disabilities.
Dr Hogan said figures showing 30 per cent of Australians with hearing aids did not use them were no surprise.
“We have a consistent figure of about 43 per cent of people who are dissatisfied,” he said. “People need to get realistic about the stuff hearing aids can do and the stuff they can’t do.
“One of the things we need to do is have a re-education about what services are available for people with hearing loss.”
He said a problem with the audological model was that people received a hearing aid and only minimal training on how to use it, then expected it to solve their problems.
Instead, dealing with hearing loss involved learning new ways of negotiating social situations, and making those changes could save people from social isolation and serious health problems.
While Department of Health and Ageing funds had already been made available for this type of training through Rehab Plus, the funds had not been used, partly because the system had until now focused on delivery through device providers.
Hearing problems have been associated with increased risk for a range of other health conditions, with people who have trouble managing their hearing loss showing higher risk for diabetes and elevated blood pressure, a higher rate of mood
disorders and being more likely to need assistance with everyday activities.
Two-thirds of people over 60 are affected.
“Hearing devices are designed to reduce the physical effects of hearing loss, but unfortunately the device will not help you listen,” Dr Hogan said.
The most commonly reported problems were managing in situations with background noise and a loss of confidence in social situations.
“People tend to put up with listening difficulties because they don’t want to rock the boat,” he said.
“Things like finding a better place to speak with someone can be really effective, but most people find it a bit awkward to ask someone to move away from the noise so they can hear.”
Dr Hogan said people should think realistically about situations where their hearing loss affected them and learn and practise simple ways to address the problems.
For example it was important to practise asking people to reduce background noise, speak slowly or stand in a better-lit spot, and to remember to make concessions yourself, such as ensuring you wore your hearing aid.
On a broader level, government could make better use of funding by changing its focus from simply providing devices to funding devices and support programs to enable people to better participate in society.