Karen Stockton: Not everyone can adjust to digital hearing aids after a lifetime of analogue

Posted on March 28, 2015

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Every time Andy Palmer (Deputy Editor) asked me to tell the story about my experiences with digital hearing aids I have always turned him down – it was always too difficult to talk about.

About 15 years ago I finally got my letter to start the transition process to move from analogue to digital hearing aids, we were all excited and there had been a lot of positive press. I guess for a lot of people it was a wonderful breakthrough but for me it turned out to be a very long nightmare.

<img src=”http://i1.wp.com/limpingchicken.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/img_3061.jpg?resize=214%2C321″ alt=”IMG_3061″ width=”214″ height=”321″ /> Karen Stockton

15 years later, I feel like I have been left on a roller coaster ride that I can’t get off. It hasn’t been a very pleasant experience at all.

I have been left feeling that I haven’t succeeded to adjust because of some unknown psychological reason which has created a barrier in the transition process. That label does not leave you with a nice feeling. I just cannot live with the sound.

I had lived with analogue hearing aids for most of my life, whilst I did have the usual problems that come with being deaf, my hearing aids were just another set of ‘ears’. I never even thought about them when I wore them; they were just another part of me.

Today, that feeling is but a memory. I am faced with a very uncertain future and so far there is no answer in sight – all is not lost though.

Being of a woman of faith, I see digital hearing aids as my Goliath; another giant in life to face and overcome with God’s help. So I will plod on in the hope that one day I will somehow get there.

So, if you were to ask me ‘are you wearing a pair of digitals now?’ the answer is a big yes.

A wonderful lady at my local hospital, who persevered and gave a lot of time up for me, finally found ones that worked for me. They aren’t perfect, I did have to spend time adjusting and they didn’t give me what I was used to with analogues but the important thing was that I walked out of that room and didn’t even have to come back for any tweaking.

I managed with them, knowing that they were, for me, the best of a bad bunch – as the saying goes!

I was given Phonak Areo 211, apparently, a very simple and basic digital hearing aid.  This was some years ago, and sadly, they are not made now and they cannot be repaired.

One has already broken down and thankfully I managed to get hold of a couple of spares to keep me going. Currently, one is beige and the other is blue but hey, who cares as long as I can hear with them? That was all that mattered.

Still, I knew I was on borrowed time with these aids so back I went to try again, but this time, I discovered that the digital hearing aid technology had moved at such a pace that the new ones are all very different, and I was back to square one.

In all the years I have been trying different hearing aids, there has been one thing that has stood out amongst all the problems I had and it was this:

I have been told that it takes a good while for the brain to get used to the digital sounds, and it requires perseverance. I understand this. I also understand that many people give up too easily when they first try them but I sometimes feel like I have to shout from the roof tops that I do try. I have persevered but there is a real physical reaction I get when I hear the sounds of a digital hearing aid and I have no control over it.

I have tried wearing one at a time; I have tried the gradual process; I have tried wearing them at low volume but every time the same thing happens. The longer I wear them the more my brain starts to hurt.

It feels like all the nerve endings in my head are firing off electrical pulses. My head then feels like a big tight band is around it and I become very lethargic and very tired, like I am on some kind of a sleeping drug, until I get to the point I cannot function.

The final straw was last year when I did decide to push on further than before and the result was disastrous.

I ended up in the doctor’s consulting room floor, flooding the room with tears and desperately asking for help just to keep those hearing aids in.

I was so determined not to take them out – I wanted to succeed. I was given anxiety tablets and went home after taking my first one. Soon after, I went into a complete meltdown and started suffering terrible paralysing nervous shivers up and down my body.

I didn’t take any more of the tablets but enough was enough! I took the hearing aids out and put my old digitals back on. For several days I couldn’t get out of bed before dinner and wasn’t able to sleep. I have to thank my God that He has brought me through this awful experience and wonderfully I was able to get back to work two weeks later.

How can I wear digital hearing aids if this is what happens? How can I continue going about my normal life dealing with people, talking on the phone and dealing with a teenage daughter.

Maybe this might seem silly but I am now thinking is these are the sort of symptoms people get with noise torture? Or over exposure to sounds? Is it simply over simulating my auditory nerves with noise it has never experienced before which brings on this anxiety? I just don’t know.

I have been waiting now for more than six-months for my hospital to come back to me with a suggestion of what to do next. I live in hope that a solution can be found before these old hearing aids finally give up and the rollercoaster begins again.

Karen Stockton is from Lincolnshire and works for Action on Hearing Loss. She also helps to run the Signpost group for Christian deaf people.

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