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Hearing Aids and the Difference Between Hearing and Listening

Choosing the correct hearing aids can be confusing. There are so many brands of hearing aids, as well as many places you can buy hearing aids. Hearing aids can be purchased at retail stores such as Sams Club, private audiology practices, medical practices, and even online or over the counter. But where is the best place to purchase hearing aids that will best meet your communication needs? Can purchasing hearing aids online, over the counter or at retail stores be just as effective as being fit professionally at a medical practice?

Yes, you can save some money going to a retail store, or find hearing aids online at a reduced cost… .. initially. But will they really improve your communication and lifestyle? Perhaps knowing the difference between “hearing” and “listening” will help you make the correct decision. Finding a quality product, and most importantly, PROFESSIONAL CARE, is what should assist you in making a decision on purchasing hearing aids that will indeed improve your way of life. That is, finding appropriate hearing aids and a professional team that will allow you to “LISTEN” rather than just merely “HEARING”.

First, let’s differentiate “hearing” from “listening.

Hearing can be defined as “perceiving and being aware that a sound is present”. Sounds can be amplified so they can be heard more easily. The television can be turned to a higher volume so it can be heard. Hearing aids that just amplify sounds, especially those purchased on line or over the counter, can make everything around you louder and easier to hear. But just merely making everything louder doesn’t necessarily address the other concept…”LISTENING”.

Listening is a far more sophisticated process that is much more complex than just hearing and being aware of sounds. Listening means “being able to attribute meaning to sound”. In research by Dr. Douglas L. Beck, AUD, Beck stated that “Listening is Where Hearing Meets Brain”. In order to improve your communication with hearing aids, people need to be able to make sense of sound, not just hear it. Listening involves cognitive abilities, such as working memory, processing directionality of sounds, speed of sounds, and being able to compare and contrast auditory information. The brain must interperet interaural loudness differences and interaural timing differences to know where to listen. Listening involves the brain being able to orient, separate, focus, and recognize sounds to apply meaning to them. If we just made everything louder, which is what amplifiers and older hearing aid technology will do, the ability to actually “listen” is greatly diminished. This results in increased listening effort, which in turns cause people with hearing loss and inferior hearing aids to become exhausted and extremely frustrated at the end of the day, leading to social withdrawal and in many cases, depression.

Ultimately, the goal of our Professional Team of physicians and audiologists is to provide the brain, or the auditory cortex, with the best possible acoustic signals so the auditory cortex, or the brain can “LISTEN” rather than just merely hearing. Or to quote Dr. Douglas Beck, we want “hearing to meet brain”. To accomplish the goal of listening, we continually research the best products that will provide the brain with the best auditory cues, improving signal to noise ratios (enhancing speech in the presence of background noise), reducing background noise, enhancing the ability to locate speech, and the ability to tell where important sounds are coming from. And as important as the hearing instruments we provide to meet the objective of “listening”, it is just as important to provide you with our expertise and help along the way in achieving your goal of listening. From continual maintenance of your instruments, to evaluating the functioning of your hearing aids, and to medically monitor your hearing, we want to make sure you continue to achieve the goal of “listening” for as long as you wear your hearing instruments. Which of course leads to the ultimate goal of improving your communication and way of life, and to prevent you from becoming “exhausted at the end of the day”.

Steven Sick, M.S., CCC-A