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Remote rehab proves highly beneficial to hearing aid users


Hearing aids that go unused, and people who choose to muddle through or withdraw from social interactions when their hearing deteriorates - sound familiar? Research currently being carried out at Sahlgrenska Academy has revealed that distance-based rehabilitation which incorporates exercises and helpful tips can be highly beneficial.

– “Regular hearing aid users felt they got more positive results out of their hearing aids, while others began using their devices more once they understood what they could expect of them,” says Milijana Malmberg, an audiologist who recently received her PhD from the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology.

For her thesis, she followed the progress of 163 hearing aid users - 67 women and 96 men, aged 31-81. The aim was to evaluate the possibilities and effects of providing hearing aid users with a supplementary remote rehabilitation program, available via the internet or by “snail mail.”

In the past, Milijana Malmberg had found that it wasn’t always enough to stick to the traditional method of providing hearing aid users with tutorials and information when they visited the hearing clinic for a scheduled appointment. It was not uncommon for a patient’s initial enthusiasm about a new hearing aid to be replaced by disappointment upon discovering that the device was not the quick fix that he might have expected. Sometimes the remaining hearing problems caused patients to stop using their hearing aids altogether.

Theory and practice

– “A patient has hearing loss, we've talked about the communication problems he has at home and at work, and yet when he comes in for his follow-up, he tells me he doesn’t want to use his hearing aid. It’s almost painful to hear that - we want them to benefit from these devices, and we want them to return to their social lives,” says Milijana Malmberg.

Part of the problem has to do with the fact that some patients may find it difficult to absorb and process all the information they are given. Another issue is that it takes time and practice to familiarize the brain and persuade it to adapt to the new sound profile of the hearing aid.

The longer the amount of time that a person with hearing loss has attempted to cope without the use of a hearing aid, the harder it is for the brain to relearn how to process certain sounds (for example, the rustle of a newspaper) that might not have been properly heard in many years.

The trial run of the five-week long distance program involved weekly deliveries (by post or email) of both reading materials and practical exercises that participants could carry out on their own. These learning materials might have to do with how sound behaves in a room, how distance affects sound, and how to best position oneself in relation to other people and sound sources. Helping participants to realize that a hearing aid does not provide normal or complete hearing was also important.

Realistic expectations

– "They learned what expectations are realistic. That it will no longer be possible to talk between different rooms, that it may be necessary to turn down the fan, and that you have to be looking at the person with whom you are speaking. All that might sound very basic, but human beings are creatures of habit - it’s all about helping patients gain some insight and realize that they have certain behavioral patterns,” explains Milijana Malmberg.

Participants in the distance program became less hesitant about asking someone to repeat what he/she said if they didn’t catch it the first time, rather than pretending to hear. They found their way back to participating in larger social gatherings, and began to apply knowledge and skills that they often already had.

– "The program reaffirmed what they already knew, and they began to use other strategies as well. On the whole, they gained a different understanding of the benefits a hearing aid can provide, which in turn meant that they dared to communicate more than they had in the past,” elaborates Milijana Malmberg.

Read mor in the thesis.

Send an email to Milijana Malmberg.

Portrait photo: Västra Götalandsregionen