If you like being in control, mastering details and playing with software, here’s a new project: Learn to program your own hearing aids.
What is hearing aid programming?
What does programming a hearing aid mean? The short answer: My hearing aid won’t be like yours, just like my glasses won’t be perfect for you. A hearing aid that’s right for you amplifies specific sounds you can’t hear and is also subtly personalized to make it the most enjoyable and useful you find. You can read more about the process, starting with hearing aid choice, in our introduction to hearing aid fitting.
Historically, hearing aids have been programmed for you by an audiologist or hearing care professional. But you can get involved. Some people like to play with the testing software to better understand their condition and report the information to their hearing care professional. You can start with their settings and fine-tune it yourself. It is also possible for those who are inclined to the technique to approximate the type of testing and programming that a hearing care professional would do from scratch. The new models make this easier.
Is auto-programming only possible with a new hearing aid?
No. You can program aids you already own, even older models.
However, the hearing aid market is changing. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved a self-programmed hearing aid from Bose that you can adjust through an app on your smartphone and on the device itself. You can buy directly from Bose.
You will see more options that do not require the help of an audiologist. By 2022, more and more over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids will be standardized (like the reading glasses you see in pharmacies) and some will be programmable.
I live far from a hearing clinic. Do I have to self-program?
Maybe not. It is possible for a hearing care professional to program your aids remotely. Look for an audiologist with telehealth services.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of auto-programming?
The big advantage: You can continue to fine tune your hearing aid.
A hearing care professional is likely to give you a good fit, but your assistants’ experience in the noisy world will give you more information. You can try one setting for a few days, then try something else. Sometimes your situation changes. Maybe you’ll babysit a grandchild for several days and need some fine tuning to really understand what she is saying out loud.
A major drawback: If you make too much noise over time, you could damage your hearing. Also, it’s a good idea to start with a visit to your doctor in case your hearing loss is caused by a problem that needs treatment. Not all hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids.
Basic Steps for Old-Fashioned Hearing Aid Auto-Programming
- You will need to understand an audiogram.
- Gather your tools. You will need your hearing aids, a PC / laptop, test software, and a wired device to program your aids. Some programmers are wireless and others require cables. Natus Hi-Pro 2 works with all major hearing aids in the US market. iCube only works for Phonak hearing aids. Some hearing aids come with software.
- The software instructions will walk you through the steps. You will listen to a sequence of sounds and provide your comments.
If you change the settings defined by your audiologist or hearing care professional, it is a good idea to download and save the existing settings before changing them.
You can also train with an old pair of hearing aids that you keep on hand.
Make small changes and keep track of what you’ve done, with notes you’ll understand later.
Modern hearing aids have customizable features
New digital hearing aids programmed at a hearing aid clinic now come with smartphone apps that let you adjust volume, clarity, and choose from hearing aid settings like ‘restaurant’ or ‘automatic’. It’s not the same as programming your own aids, but it does give you flexibility. You will have to experiment with the settings and actually use them. A popular setting? Adapt your hearing aids to the music.
A word on the label
When I take out my phone at a restaurant, I always tell my companions that I am not responding to an SMS, I adjust my hearing aids to hear them better. I live in New York, and have to admit it was nice when the restaurants were mostly empty inside during the pandemic (you could eat inside if you were vaccinated, but a lot of people chose not to do so). Now that they’re loud again and facing the background noise of the restaurant, I’m back to pull out my phone.
Why not just get an OTC hearing aid with standard settings?
It depends on what new products will be available once OTC hearing aids hit the market. However, based on the limited research to date, most people are not able to purchase a suitable helper with standard settings on their own. Specifically, in a small trial from 2017, when adults aged 55 to 79 with mild to moderate hearing loss chose from three preprogrammed hearing aids for both ears, 90 percent tried more than one hearing aid, and almost three-quarters chose the wrong one based on their audiograms. When these volunteers received a hearing aid fitted by an audiologist, they were more likely to be satisfied enough to keep it.
You can examine this evidence in three ways. One answer is “hmmn… I better work with an audiologist”. Another response is “I see it’s not obvious. I want to be able to self-program to make sure I’m doing it right. Then there is the third option for the tech-savvy: “I will work with an audiologist and continue to refine myself. ”
If you are still not satisfied with your hearing
Now is the right time to see a hearing care professional. If you weren’t happy with your previous provider, our directory contains consumer-reviewed clinics that can help you make an informed choice.
Personally, despite wearing hearing aids suitable for me by experienced audiologists and using smartphone controls, I never felt that my hearing was good enough, so I perform well in noisy restaurants, my biggest challenge.
I believe I have both ordinary hearing loss and another kind called “hidden hearing loss” which involves damage to the nerves rather than the hair inside the ear. It is possible to have this kind of hearing loss and to have a normal audiogram. Although you can hear the sounds, you are missing out on details that help you understand speech.
If you suspect something similar, a strategy to try is hearing training and build your understanding through regular practice. It is possible to do this with “auditory training” applications for smartphones or with a digital coach, such as Amptify.