Hearing loss distorts our perception of sounds. Hearing aids try to restore these sounds in a life like manner, thus researchers must define what is important for a “natural” hearing experience.
Any first time user can tell you their initial experience with a hearing aid can sound somewhat artificial, and at times strident. This in fact is the brain reacting to new sounds. Even a person who has had their own natural hearing suddenly returned to them via surgery report this phenomenon. The brain needs to adjust to the sudden change in the tonotopic (frequency shape) mapping of the sounds.
The good news is modern hearing aid technology take this into account and restore the sounds gradually over days. This has the effect of introducing a more natural sound experience to the wearer.
THE QUALITY & COMFORT VS SPEECH INTELLIGIBILITY
Typically hearing aids strive to find a balance between comfort and speech understanding. This is because our brain does the same thing. Take the example of a person reading a book on a noisy train. The person after a short period can quickly filter out the noise of the train to focus on the book. To this person the train noise simply fades away as she becomes engaged in the book. We know the train noise didn’t actually disappear, rather her brain switched off to the noise and other sounds such as speech in the train.
Now, if a friend boards the train and calls out her name, this person’s brain quickly engages with the sounds in the train, locates the friend and focuses on the speech.
It is the balance between comfort and speech understanding that modern hearing aids strive for. They do this remarkably well. Using very sophisticated artificial intelligence and wireless technology the modern hearing aids can accurately detect where sounds come from, what they are, which ones to focus on for speech clarity, and when to soften for comfort.
Because everyone’s demands are different there is a range of technology levels. The most basic technology levels are ideal for people who live more subdued lives. Advanced technology levels are best suited for individuals who encounter many different listening environments throughout the day (e.g. visits family, works, goes to the movies, restaurants, dinner parties).
ARE ONE OR TWO HEARING AIDS MORE NATURAL
If you are considering one or two hearing aids because of price, then it is always best to get two hearing aids that are more affordable than one more expensive and sophisticated hearing aid. This is because two hearing aids worn together give a much more natural sounds experience. Furthermore, sophisticated high end hearing aids have many technologies that only work with a binaural (two ear) prescription such as wireless connectivity.
Remember, the first step to take for more natural hearing is to have a hearing test, and seek advice from an Audiologist.