Hearing tests are an important first step in treating hearing loss. We even recommend people receive a hearing test before they suspect hearing loss, in order to establish a baseline. There is a common misconception that hearing tests are meant solely as a basis for setting hearing aids based on one formula or another. And while it’s true that hearing aids are set to match the “curve”, there is another important aspect for the hearing professional to consider in order for the patient to achieve the highest level of success with hearing aids—namely, your individual sound preference. For example, have you ever noticed that some people prefer loud sounds, while others are sensitive to loud sounds? Some folks like to have music or television on in the background and others prefer quiet. Ironically, it is common that with hearing loss comes sensitivity to high volumes, while younger people with good hearing can tolerate loud environments, and often even prefer it.
While these sound preferences are highly subjective they are still critically important to take into consideration. And how do we figure these out? By asking numerous questions about where you struggle the most with your hearing loss and what you like and dislike. Often we hear indicators, such as “when we go to the movies I wear ear plugs”. During part of the hearing test we will determine the conversational volume you prefer for the “most comfortable level”. We will also often test your threshold to loud sounds. At least one manufacturer (Oticon) has a series of sound samples that help determine how the sound is delivered to your ears; they call it “brain hearing”.
Another very important test is the word recognition test. These word lists are typically 25 words that are very common but sound like other words. For example, ache, ace, ate or chew, shoe, flew. Someone with good or normal hearing will get 100 percent of these words correct, while most folks with hearing loss (and the volume turned up to a comfortable level) may get 70 percent. However, there are many people who get less than 20 percent! Keep in mind these words may not be missed when used in a sentence or accompanied by visual context or lip reading. We can’t fix someone’s poor word understanding but it will generally change how we set the hearing aids and influence the conversation about expectations. This is a very important talk to have with the family members, as well. The goal is always to give you the very best hearing we can, regardless of the hearing loss you have.