Robert Mandara: Programming your own hearing aids, part 3. How to do it!

Posted on April 12, 2013

Last year, the BBC reported that more and more hearing aid users are programming their own hearing aids. Here, in the third part of a three-part series, Limping Chicken reader Robert Mandara explains how you can do it.

Read part one by clicking here and part two by clicking here.

In my last article I suggested what you would need to program your own hearing aids. In this final article I present some tips for how to do it. Each person, hearing aid and software application is different so the best I can do is to give an overview to get you started.

Disclaimer: Whatever you do is at your own risk! Don’t blame me!

For the purposes of this article, I assume that you have got the software, hardware interface and cables that you need. My top hints and tips for programming

  • If possible, test what you can hear with hearing aids before making any changes. Your audiologist may be able to perform, for example, a controlled speech comprehension test. Ultimately, you want to be able to prove (especially to the sceptical audiologist) that your changes have made things better rather than worse. Other people may notice your changes as an improvement in your mood. Keep in mind that any test is limited and won’t usually evaluate how well you hear on the phone or in noisy situations.
  • In general, you need to connect the interface to the computer, start up the software and then connect the cables to the hearing aids. The connections on the hearing aids are tiny so be very careful when connecting the cables. From there on, you must use the software to interact with the hearing aids.
  • Safely save the original settings from your hearing aids, for example, as a client under another name “Bob Safekeeping”. If all else fails, you can revert back to these settings.
  • The legal position of self programming is unclear but dispensers have certainly not encouraged people to do it. Therefore, assume that it’s “not allowed” and tread carefully. In the USA, America Hears supplies hearing aids together with programming equipment. If self-programming’s legal there, I would expect it to be legal elsewhere.
  • Take extreme care not to muck up your hearing aids. Audiologists will get rightly annoyed if they have to start fixing our DIY disasters. If you can demonstrate that you’ve improved your programming, it will be hard for audiologists to argue against that.
  • In most cases, the first step is to download the existing settings from the hearing aid(s) to the computer so you don’t need to have your audiogram. However, if you start with a brand new hearing aid, you will need your audiogram.
  • Save each iteration of settings carefully, so that you can revert to earlier settings at any time. You will want to go back as well as forwards!
  • Document your changes in a notebook. That will make it easier to retrace your steps if you have to.
  • It is better to make single small incremental changes rather than lots of big ones in one session. Allow time (hours/days/weeks) to evaluate each change before making the next one. The brain needs time to adapt.
  • Allow plenty of time and don’t try to do too much in one go. I have probably spent about 100 hours programming my hearing aids but an hour is quite long enough in any one session. It is surprisingly exhausting listening and adjusting.
  • Once you are in control, you will probably find yourself paying much more attention to what you can and can’t hear. For that reason, you might find self-programming becomes quite addictive as you tweak for better and better sound. In a way, it’s not something that you ever completely finish.
  • Programming hearing aids is like photography. The more you learn, the more you realise that there is to learn. In a fascinating way.
  • Making all frequencies louder isn’t usually the best thing to do even though you might feel like that is what you need. It’s much better to adjust the gain of specific frequency regions.
  • Because the software is designed for audiologists who are facing you, your left ear will be on the right hand side of the screen and your right ear on the left. Until manufacturers build in support for self programmers, just cross your eyes and get used to it!
  • If you have an old or spare hearing aid, try programming it first before messing with the hearing aids that you depend on.
  • Batteries are normally removed from hearing aids during programming. The hearing aid will be powered via the hardware interface. An exception is if the iCube is used. If in doubt, try programming without batteries installed first.
  • Software will look complicated and daunting to start with. The more you play with it, the more comfortable you will become. In fact, Phonak’s iPFG software actually has two user interfaces. A basic (child’s play) one and an advanced one. This mixture of interfaces actually makes the software seem more confusing than it really is. What is needed is a clear workflow from start to finish but this is not encouraged by the software. If self programming ever truly takes off, the software will need to be a lot more user-friendly.

I hope that this series of articles has inspired you to think about and try self programming. If you do try it, I would love to hear how you get on! Here’s wishing you success!

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