We picked up new hearing aids at a late audiologist appointment today — I’m now “test driving” the Oticon Synchro series of hearing aids, with a fair amount of skepticism involved. If my audiologist is to be believed, she’s quite grateful for my skepticism — says it helps give quantitative feedback about how well the aids really work in particular situations.
Hopefully, that’s not asking too much of me.
Anyway, she asked me to take notes on my experiences with these aids, and I figured it might be worth putting them in my blog so that people might get a glimpse of what it’s like being hearing impaired. It may not work well, but it’s at least an attempt.
Just to explain before I go on: Oticon’s Adapto and Synchro model are both digital, as opposed to analog hearing aids. This gives them far superior sound quality and higher adaptability. It’s exactly like the difference between analog and digital phones — the sound tends to be crisper, cleaner, and more understandable than most older analog devices.
That said, this was a transition from one digital aid to the next, so in terms of the quality of the sound, there wasn’t that big of a leap. The real changes involved in this model switch have more to do with the ability to control sound in a more intelligent way. In the Adapto model (my old aids), the aid can be loaded with two different programs, which usually act in two separate ways. There’s no middle ground — you either use one program or another while the aid is in use. In my case, I had one program which was a noise reduction program, which basically treated any background noise as the enemy and eliminated it. The second program on those aids was more of a broad program, with high volume feed-in that let me pick up a lot more sound with little or no discrimination between what sounds I should or shouldn’t be hearing. The first program was one that I usually used in louder situations — highway travel or walking through a very loud, crowded room, for instance. The second program tended to be the one I used most — though it was only intended for things like lectures, I used it in almost all my everyday conversations in order to ensure that I was getting everything people said.
Of course, hearing aid users (and, dare I say, people with normal hearing) always have a big fear of not hearing things.
Anyway, the Synchro works differently. Now I have up to four programs to choose from, but there are only two currently loaded — a general use program, which is what I’m using for all my hearing, and a telecoil program, which I use with my specially-equipped cell phone. Clearly, I don’t have the option of switching back and forth between programs right now if I encounter a problem, but in some ways, this is better. The single program that I use with the new aids have a much better handle on being able to realistically adapt noise levels based on surroundings. These aids are slanted towards being able to efficiently pick up human speech patterns, and, unlike their predecessors, these new aids can do that just as well whether the person speaking is in front of me or behind me. The old aids had a heavy bias towards picking up speakers that were directly in my line of sight. These new aids, however, while they still have a bias towards line-of-sight speakers, can pick up speech from behind me in much the same manner. I’ve only tested this ability in my audiologist’s office, but I’ll be experimenting with it over the next week or so.
As for the ability to hear on my cell phone, the sound is, as expected, clearer than with the older aids. The only thing that bugs me with these aids so far is that they adapt to current situations based on a set of computed scenarios, then picks whatever volume scenario it thinks is best at the time. I’m in a slightly faster mode than other users of this same aid, but I’m not at the fastest adaptation level that these aids have. I don’t really know if that would help or not.
Of course, aids aren’t the only thing that control how well I hear, but it’s the second most major component. The other major component, since I have behind-the-ear hearing aid models, is the mold that inserts into the ear. I just had these remade, and got new ones fitted along with the old aids, so the sound pickup right now is optimum. That’ll help me test these aids as best as I can.