When Do You Wear or Remove Your Hearing Aids? [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

As somebody with mild/medium hearing loss, I guess wearing hearing aids are more of a choice than a necessity for me. I mean, I functioned without them for nearly 40 years. Today I wouldn’t give them up for anything in the world, of course, and I really prefer wearing them for anything resembling human interaction. But I can get by without. (An audiologist I had a chat with one day told me I’d be surprised at how people with much more hearing loss than me “get by just fine” without aids. Anyway.)

So, when do I wear them, when do I remove them? As a general rule, I wear them when I leave the house. (My cats aren’t all that talkative.) I remove them when I get home. Since I got my V90 aids though, I often forget to remove them when I get home.

I don’t wear my hearing aids to watch TV.


I’ve been watching TV so long with headphones that having “ambient” sound on actually makes me self-conscious about bothering my neighbours with it (this is Switzerland). I used to always remove them to listen to music or podcasts. Now that I have the ComPilot Air II I sometimes keep them in (more for podcasts than music, with open tips there are frequencies missing for the music). If I’m travelling or wandering around on my own and not really expecting to interact with people I might take them out, too.

At judo training, I usually keep them in for warm-up and maybe the first rounds of “light” practice. Then I remove them so that I don’t have to worry about paying attention to what’s going on around my ears.

For skiing, I keep them in, despite the helmet. With my old Widex aids I’d given up on that (they really didn’t cope well with the helmet), but my current ones are fine. When driving, I sometimes wear them, sometimes not (depends if I was wearing them just before taking the wheel or not, I guess).

I also ended up removing my hearing aids once at a very noisy party. Even with the highest “speech in noise” setting, I actually managed better without them. But that was really an exceptional situation.

What about you? Do you put them in first thing in the morning and take them out last thing at night, or are you like me, sometimes in, sometimes out? And when? I’m curious to hear how other people do this. I suspect our wearing vs. not-wearing habits are also linked to how much hearing loss we have.

So Many Failed Fittings [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

Again and again, when I talk about my hearing loss and my role as Open Ears editor, people tell me about their relative, acquaintance, or friend who has hearing loss of some degree, got hearing aids, but never wears them. This is a well-known problem in the industry, of course. I haven’t done checking out the existing research on the topic, but after an umpteenth discussion — and a failed fitting in my history — I do have a few thoughts to share.


If I go back to my personal experience, there was a major difference between my first (failed) fitting and the one that got me wearing hearing aids on a daily basis three years ago: the first time, I was sent home with “perfectly tuned” hearing aids and that was it. In my memory (though it might be failing me), no follow-up appointment. The second time, I was sent home with barely amplified hearing aids and clear follow-up instructions.

Of course there are other differences. I was 13 at the time, 25 years older at my most recent fitting. Technology had evolved. I’d had time to accept the fact I have hearing loss. As a teenager, I was “told to go”, whereas as an adult, I made my own decision.

But I can’t help but think that sending newly fitted people home with hearing aids on “full blast” is a bad idea for a first fitting. Everything I know about habituation and resistance to change screams against doing that. Baby steps is usually what it takes for lasting change, rather than huge sweeping revolutions. Remember those new year resolutions you never keep? Yeah.

Have you been fitted with hearing aids that stayed in a drawer, or do you know somebody in that situation? I’m curious as to what other people’s hypotheses are regarding the reasons for all these failures, I have to say.

Trying Venture: It’s Smooth [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

A surprise was waiting for me on my last trip to Phonak headquarters in Stäfa, 10 days ago: Venture.

I had an appointment to try some Audéo hearing aids and tweak a few things that were bothering me with the fitting and the settings. As I arrived in the building, I bumped into Ora. I excitedly told her, “Do you know I’m trying Boleros? And I like them, there are really situations where they perform better than my old hearing aids.” She answered that she was delighted to hear that. I mentioned some of my beef with Soundflow. “You should try Venture! Are you going to try Venture? Tell them to make you try Venture.”

Venture? Phonak’s new platform (chip, software) for Audéo.

I headed towards the audiology lab and was welcomed by Michael and Simone. Here is what they had for me 🙂

Audéo V90 and ComPilot Air II

Venture! I didn’t even have to ask. They had planned it all in advance. I was pretty excited, I had to say. New functionalities, resolution of the Soundflow switching issues that had annoyed me in my car, smaller BTE. No purple, or pink, sadly, but I decided I wouldn’t be fussy about the colour and be happy with the silver that was offered me.

The fitting went smoothly and I got to know Simone, my audiologist for this visit. We did things wirelessly (I was wondering about that in my first post: both options exist for Phonak, it really comes down to the audiologists preference), selected some new programmes, and — even more exciting! — tested the ComPilot Air II and got to see the RemoteControl smartphone app in action.

Two and a half years ago, when I got fitted, I was dreaming about this. My initial assumption once I got over the wonder of hearing more was that there should be a way to interact with my hearing aids directly from my phone. I was shocked that it wasn’t possible. I was also shocked that the device I was provided with to “connect” my phone and hearing aids was so… 2001. With the ComPilot Air II, I feel we’re really getting there.

ComPilot Air II

Steph on Train with ComPilot Air IIIt’s not direct phone-to-hearing-aid connection, but the device is small, looks good, is actually wearable, and has an autonomy that makes it usable. About 4 hours of streaming, I’m told, versus 1 hours for the M-DEX I tried two years ago. And the app, though it is still quite simple, is also really on the right track. Unfortunately, due to iOS8 Bluetooth problems, I’m going to have to wait a bit for it to be available on iOS so I can really try it out (get it from Google Play though). While we’re talking about “in the right direction”, I can’t wait to see what EasyCall is like — a flat device that fits on the back of any Bluetooth-enabled phone and boasts upto 10 hours of talk time.

The ComPilot works really well. I got to try it for a few real-life phone calls, and once we had set the default behaviour to “mute the room” when streaming started (who on earth would like surrounding sounds to be amplified too while trying to make a phone call?!) it managed to be at least as good as my default “earbuds and no hearing aids” solution. I used it on the train home to listen to podcasts. Now I get to look even sillier when I laugh all by myself on the bus, because I don’t even have earbud wires dangling from my ears.

The smartphone app connects with the ComPilot and allows things like changing programmes through the app instead of cycling through them with the hearing aid button. It also allows control of the general amplification volume (up/down), and with the Speech in 360 programme, you can “lock” amplification in one direction if you desire, instead of letting it automatically determine where the speech you want to listen to is coming from.

In addition to the Speech in 360 programme, I got a dedicated Music programme with no Soundrecover. I also added a simple Calm Environment programme as a fallback if ever the automatic programme was doing things I didn’t want it to (I had been burned, but I needn’t have worried).

One little snag I hit with this new pair of hearing aids was linked to the little bend that has been added to the RIC part of the aid. It actually improves fitting — meaning it’s possible to fit more people with that bend. Sadly it’s not a good thing for me, as I seem to be one of the small number of people for who the bend makes things uncomfortable (outright painful actually!), but Simone managed to find some “old” unbent ones for me. And Michael told me that the bend could be tweaked by the audiologist — so no big showstopper. Just a snag.

It bends!

I really like that they now make the open tips black instead of transparent. Even if you’re squeaky-clean, the transparent ones always become yellow with time. No problem with black 🙂

We decided to take some imprints of my ears to prepare custom molds for me next time. Even though I don’t like the idea of “occlusive” molds, I did give them a fair chance with my Widex aids, and I’m willing to give Phonak a chance too. So, stay tuned, next time is probably going to be about that.

My ear!

It was a really exciting morning. I left the audiology lab with a huge smile on my face and a lot of hope for the future.

After a week or two of use, I am totally in love with my Audéo V90s. They’re smooth. I don’t notice them. We’ve solved all my physical comfort problems. I don’t need to take them out when I get a phone call (with or without ComPilot). I don’t hear any transitions between programmes. The sound around me feels completely natural. I never hear anything “weird” coming out of them.

The ultimate test: in the automatic programmes that come with Venture, there is a new one designed specifically for car noise, so I was curious to see how that would play out. Answer, a few days later: great. I had music on full blast, on the motorway, and I was singing at the top of my voice — on the automatic programme. And I never heard my hearing aids misbehave. It was as if I wasn’t wearing them, but could hear.

They’ll have to pry them out of my cold dead hands.

Forgetting [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

In the same day, I both forgot that I was wearing my hearing aids before jumping under the shower, and that I should maybe carry spare batteries before going to a family gathering.

P13 Hearing Aid Batteries

As I live alone, I usually put on my hearing aids before leaving home as opposed to first thing when I jump out of bed. As I have a friend visiting these days, my hearing aid routine has changed — I’m not a morning person to start with, so add “no ears” on top of that and you get a very poor morning communicator.

So, Saturday I actually climbed into the shower, turned it on, and was about to raise it above my head to wash my hair when it suddenly dawned on me to make sure I didn’t have my hearing aids in. A niggling doubt. A close shave, too, because there they were, sitting on my ears.

Later that day, after a rather frantic morning running around, we headed out to a cabin in the woods (a “refuge” as we call them here in Switzerland) for a big family party to celebrate my aunt’s 70th birthday. An hour in, I hear the ominous beeping coming into my right ear.

“Oh no! I hope it lasts long enough for me to enjoy the rest of the party!”

My Widex aids give me two warnings and then go dead. If my memory serves me right, I have an hour or so after the first warning at the most.

With Phonak, they seem to chime every half-hour or so (again, I didn’t time it, writing this from memory). And the first time I reached the end of a pair of batteries, I had the feeling they lasted forever after the first warning. Hours, if not half a day. But the last time I reached the end of my batteries I was surprised to have one go dead pretty soon after the first beeps. Maybe I missed the previous ones in the noise?

All this to say that when my hearing aids started telling me “battery’s going”, I didn’t really know if it would be fine for the rest of the afternoon, or if they would be dead 20 minutes later. I had the niggling suspicion I hadn’t brought any replacement batteries with me.

My “Phonak batteries” are bigger and last longer than my “Widex batteries” (I know they’re not Phonak or Widex batteries, but that’s how I think of them). I got used to always carrying my smaller batteries around with my Widex aids because I couldn’t really go a week without changing them. With something like 10 days or more between each battery change with my Phonaks, it’s easy to get sloppy and stop carrying batteries. Specially when the hearing aid warns you (normally!) well in advance.

I got caught once already two weeks ago without spare batteries: on a trek in the mountains, which I finished hearing-aid-less (because honestly, if most of what I’m doing is walking and panting, one hearing aid is more annoying than none).

My niggling suspicion turned out to be correct, once again: I went through my bags, and indeed I hadn’t brought spare batteries. I had even taken my little “emergency pouch” out of my handbag to make space before leaving.

Then my first hearing aid went dead. I took it out, opened it, closed it and put it back in. Got a grand 5 minutes of extra hearing time with it. It wasn’t even 2pm and the party was going to last until early evening…

I ended up jumping in my car and heading back home to pick up some batteries, cursing my lack of foresight. Luckily I didn’t live very far from the “refuge” and the batteries were in the very “emergency pouch” I had discarded earlier, so it took me about 15 seconds to find them.

Thirty minutes later, I was back with my family, vowing to never go anywhere again without spare batteries! (Which, of course, I promptly did the next day, as I had just changed my batteries. Right?)

Trying Something Different [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

It’s no secret that I’m not a Phonak customer, despite being the editor-in-chief of this blog. It could be argued that this is a good or a bad thing, but right now I’m actually not convinced that it’s all that important.

Fitting some Phonak hearing aids

Anyway, since I started working with Phonak, it’s been (kindly) joked about that something needed to be done about my hearing aids. To tell the truth, I’m very happy about my current hearing aids, and not just because of their colour. I like the sound quality, I like the way my voice sounds (important! I speak a lot!), I even find their operating noise soothing. They allow me to understand people so much better and have really changed my life.

My complaints? Well, restaurants, mainly (who doesn’t complain about restaurants?) and the crackling sound they make when faced with loud noises. Oh, and the phone.

Last time I went to Phonak headquarters in Stäfa, we arranged an appointment with one of the audiologists there (Jennifer) so I could try out some Phonak hearing aids. This would allow me, well, to try out their technology and maybe talk about it (what I’m going to do in a bit), and also to play around with Phonak accessories. After all the horrible things I had to say about the M-DEX (and I’m not alone), my Phonak colleagues kept saying “oh, you should try the Roger Pen”. Well, my current hearing aids don’t let me do that. So, first step in that direction: for the last few weeks I’ve been walking around with Phonaks on my ears.

Overall, I like them. I’ll write another post about the acoustic/hearing stuff, but what I want to talk about now is differences. Differences in audiologists, fitting process, hearing aids. Is different good or bad? The answer is probably in the eye of the beholder.

First, I had a really interesting discussion with Jennifer about how to take an audiogramme. Jennifer is from the UK, and the process taught and used there is different from the French/Swiss one I’d experienced until now. She starts with a loud sound, so I know what I need to listen to. Then she makes it softer and softer. When I don’t hear it anymore she goes back up until I do again. Then back down until I don’t. In this way she pinpoints the exact spot where I lose the sound. I have to say this makes it less stressful than the “usual” (to me) beeping-sound-getting-louder process. Hearing tests and sound-proof booths are great environments for drowning in your tinnitus, and I always ended up realising that I’d been hearing the beeping sound for quite a bit before I actually realised I was hearing it (if that makes sense). “OMG that was a real sound!”

Now, does it make a huge difference in the resulting audiogramme… Not certain. But it was interesting to see that the way certain things are done is really a product of culture.

Steph all plugged in :-)Second, to program my hearing aids Jennifer plugged wires into the back of them. It felt strangely cyborgy, in a cool way. But in my opinion it’s a bit more cumbersome than a wireless solution. With Widex all I had to do is wear a kind of big necklace which connected wirelessly with both the computer and the hearing aids. (To be honest, I can’t remember if Phonak fitting is always wireful or if this was because we were in a test/trial/development environment.)

Third, the in-the-ear sound measurement sound is different: Widex uses some kind of breathy rythmic burts of noise (not very pleasant), whereas Phonak has a combination of background noise and human voices speaking a mash of languages. Pretty surreal to listen to, because bits and pieces feel familiar but the whole thing is of course unintelligible. A kind of audio “lorem ipsum“? As somebody with a strong interest in languages I found it quite fascinating.

At this stage, I feel a bit like somebody switching from Mac to PC or vice-versa. Change in ecosystem!

We all know that hearing aids require habituation. So I’ve left “my” hearing aids in a drawer these last weeks and stuck to the Phonaks. What I want to do (soon!) but am apprehending a bit is swap back. I’m used to the Phonaks now, and I have kind of forgotten what my Widex aids sound like. To compare, I need to go back to them.

Why the apprehension? Well, I feel a bit in a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation. What if I prefer my old hearing aids? What if I prefer the test ones? But to be honest, I have the feeling it’ll be more nuanced. It’s not a clear-cut 10 to 1. But still, I’m apprehensive. I’ll probably do a first write-up before the swap, and another one afterwards. Interesting, no?

Why Do We Underestimate Hearing Loss? [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

People wait a long time to get fitted with hearing aids. I’m a good example of this, having hearing loss since birth (we guess) but waiting until my 38th year to do so, after figuring out “something was up” with my hearing when I was 13 or so.
In his article about baby boomers and hearing aids, Steve points to an article in Hearing Review which mentions an average of 7 years waiting in the US between identifying hearing loss and actually getting hearing aids. The article is Right Product; Wrong Message, and you should read it. It’s about how we can try and change the social norm in hearing care, how hearing loss is perceived, etc.

Anyway. I waited, and it seems I’m not alone.

One thing I realised when I got fitted is that I had underestimated how much hearing loss I had. Various conversations I’ve had since then with audiologists at Phonak and other people with hearing loss have led me to believe that this is quite common.

You cannot hear what you cannot hear.

When you lose your eyesight, you still see everything, but it’s blurry.

When you lose your hearing, the sounds you don’t hear just cease to exist. You don’t know you don’t hear them anymore. You can’t “hear” that you didn’t hear the doorbell. You can’t “hear” that you didn’t hear somebody talking to you when you had your back turned.

Another way in which eyes and ears are different.

When hearing degrades, or just wasn’t there in first place, you rely on other people to inform you that they tried speaking to you and you didn’t hear them. Or that they’re not mumbling, they talk like this with “everyone” and only you are making them repeat every second sentence.

We shape our lives around our capacity for hearing. My preference for quiet places and one-on-one situations is not a coïncidence. These are the social situations in which my hearing doesn’t prevent me from communicating and enjoying myself. When I got fitted, one of the things I noticed is that almost all my friends were loud speakers. Funny, eh? Sometimes I think of all the soft-spoken people I never got to know because I simply couldn’t understand them, or maybe didn’t even hear them try to talk to me.

I personally think that one of the major reasons why people wait to get hearing aids, setting economic reasons aside, is that they are not aware of the benefits hearing aids could bring in their lives, because they don’t realise what they’re missing out on because of their hearing loss.

The First Time I Resented My Hearing Aids [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

It was last week. I guess a two-year love story with my aids is not too bad, so it had to happen someday.


I was working in my office when a loud alarm-like sound went off. Now, in certain parts of the world this is habitual, but not in this quiet little part of Switzerland. We don’t have house and car alarms going off twenty times a day (we don’t have house or car alarms most of the time). Ambulances and police cars sometimes go by but they won’t use their sirens unless they need them.

We looked at each other in the office, and I hopped out of the ground-level window to investigate. Was this going to involve calling the police?

The noise actually seemed to be coming from the playground, and not the parking lot next to it as I had thought initially. By the time I was close enough it had stopped. I checked out the playground and saw a couple of little kids putting down huge plastic sci-fi guns down. Now that was more plausible than a rogue car alarm: noisy toys. I wandered around the garden a little, searching for one of my cats, when the sound went off again. This time it was clearly coming from the playground, and I could see the kids in full action with their guns, shooting at imaginary hostiles in the bushes.

I made for the playground, called to the kids, and told them off for making so much horrible noise when there were people trying to work or rest in the neighbourhood. We like our peace and quiet here in the land of the Swiss. They looked at each other, at me, shrugged it off, and as I turned to go, I heard a woman calling to me from the balcony three floors above. They were her kids, and she was quite angry at me for telling them off when they were just playing in the playground on a sunny vacation day.

I told her that yes, I had asked them to stop that horrible noise because it was really unpleasant. She went off in a big rant about letting kids play and that I just had to live with it. I told her again that the noise was really bad, and that I was wondering what was going on because it was so loud and sounded so much like an alarm. She wasn’t really listening to me, though, and just ranted back.

That’s when one of the men in the park jumped into the conversation and said it was a car alarm. And I said yes, it sounds like a car alarm, don’t you agree it’s a bit disruptive for “kid’s play”? But he insisted. It was really a car alarm. It wasn’t their toys.

As soon as I realised what a terrible mistake I had made, I immediately apologised profusely, to the mother, and also to the two boys, with whom I double-checked that it wasn’t their guns. They seemed to get it.

The mother didn’t, however. She continued ranting at me even though I was now trying to explain that it was a misunderstanding and I was mortified about having told off the kids who were doing nothing wrong. And of course I would never have told off kids for playing in the park, I only did so because I thought their guns were making this horrible loud noise. I couldn’t get a word in, and I’m usually pretty good at that.

At one point I understood she had no clue which noise I was talking about, and so when the alarm went off again, I pointed it out to her. She clearly thought I was crazy for imagining this noise could come out of a child’s toy and scoffed at my explanation. I wonder now if she thought I was trying to make up an excuse because she had “caught me” telling off the kids for playing?

And then it dawned on me. One piece of information she was missing was my hearing loss and hearing aids. So I tried to tell her. I said “I’m sorry, I’m hard of hearing and sometimes I have trouble judging the volume of noises and where they come from.” The ranting didn’t stop, and as by that point I was bursting into tears, I ended up walking off.

Now, there were a bunch of upsetting elements and triggers in this episode for me. I was stressed, preoccupied about something unrelated, and being falsely accused of something (like hating children and not wanting them to enjoy their spring holiday) is one of my big triggers. But what particularly upset me here is that I would never have got myself into this situation if I didn’t have hearing loss and hearing aids.

My world of sound is not imaginable for the angry ranting mother on her balcony. My hearing aids are wonderful when it comes to communicating with people, but two years in (and maybe my fault for not wearing them from morning to evening even when I’m alone?) there are still some ambient sounds which startle me and register as “unknown” because they’re just not at a volume I expect. And despite all the wireless and electronic magic going on in my hearing aids, I do get the feeling that for certain sounds, I have more trouble than I used to identifying their origin.

My hearing loss has long felt like a detail in my life. These last years, particularly since my fitting, have been a journey in realising how much a core part of who I am and how I relate to others has its roots in how much — or little — I hear. I’m used to having one-way communication with children I don’t know, because without hearing aids, I can’t understand a quarter of what they say (and children are not good at all at dealing with an adult who asks them to repeat stuff). Had I approached those boys to talk with them and make sure their guns were making the noise I suspected, things would have been different. But I didn’t, because I’ve learned not to start conversations or ask questions when I’m not going to be able to understand the answer. Had I not been muddled about volume and orientation of the sound I heard, because I can still be surprised at how unexpectedly loud certain sounds can be, I wouldn’t even have suspected the kids for starters. I thought the noise sounded loud to me because I was wearing my hearing aids, not because it actually was that loud.

It hurts to realise that my ears (organic and electronic) can lure me into such socially disastrous situations.

After I’d calmed down a bit, I went back to the playground and approached the kids. I wanted to make extra sure they had understood what the misunderstanding had been, and heard how sorry I was to have wrongly told them off. They had! 🙂

Eyes And Ears: So Different? [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

Since I started spending so much time thinking about hearing loss and hearing technology, one of the things I’ve obviously been thinking about it social stigma related to hearing loss. Stigma is immediately cited as the reason people wait so long to get fitted, and the reason for which “invisible” is a great quality for a hearing aid. (Not everybody agrees, though.)

Corinne with glasses
Photo credit: Corinne Stoppelli

In an attempt to wrap my head around some of these issues, I’ve been trying to make parallels between eyes and ears, glasses and hearing aids. Why is “not hearing well” considered so differently from “not seeing well”? Saying “there’s more stigma” is not really an answer. Social stigma comes from somewhere, right?

I think the main thing we need to consider here is that hearing loss impacts our relationships to other people, whereas visual loss (!) mainly impacts our relationship to the world. If you have trouble seeing, you will stumble, you will not be able to read the signs, you will not recognise objects (maybe even people), but you will not be prevented in a significant way from interacting with others. Whereas with hearing loss, even “a bit” of it can mess up relationships: hearing loss can mean you pass for rude, or stupid, or uncaring, or distracted, or uninterested — because you just couldn’t hear what the other person thought you did.

I think this is the deep, social root of the issue. Being short-sighted isn’t perceived as a disability. It’s a reasonably normal, common condition. In Switzerland, your health insurance covers your glasses to some extent. If you’re “short of hearing”, however, it immediately falls under the “disability” label. What financial contribution there is to your hearing aids (if you’re entitled to it) comes from the Invalidity insurance.

To reinforce this, glasses are “in your face” visible and all over the place, whereas hearing aids go unnoticed most of the time. Since I was fitted, my keen eye for detail has been scanning ears in public transport and supermarkets. There are actually lots of people with hearing aids out there, but if you’re not paying attention, you won’t notice them!

One thing that has been bugging me a lot is how there is a linguistic double-standard for ears and eyes. We have a specific word for those things we put on our nose to compensate for bad eyesight: “glasses”. But what words do we have for those devices we wear in or on our ears? “Hearing aids.” I’ll probably do a proper article about the language issue, actually. Stay tuned 😉

Depending on my Hearing Aids [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

With the early days of hearing aid wonder hearing behind me, I sometimes find myself forgetting them. The other day, it happened again. I left home and realised just in time that I didn’t have my ears with me.

I blame my morning shower. I have to wait until my ears are completely dry to put my hearing aids in. By that time I’m up and about and out of my “waking up and getting started” routine. What is the best solution to this? I definitely haven’t found it yet.

As I live alone, I rarely wear my hearing aids in my flat. I did during the first months though, to help my brain get used to them. And when I’m in public transport, I’m often listening to podcasts with my earbuds in — not physically compatible with having hearing aids in your ears too. So I don’t put them in each time I leave the flat, either.

Each time I catch myself leaving home without my hearing aids in my handbag, I turn back with this sense of dread in the pit of my stomach, imagining what would have happened if I hadn’t realised I was missing them. Today, the thought of teaching a class, giving a talk, having a meeting or just coffee with a friend without my hearing aids feels like an impossible mission. It almost makes me panicky to think about it. I find myself wondering how I ever managed to do without (and so, so much!) for so long.

It makes sense, though. My brain is “less trained” in compensating my hearing loss. I have less practice. And so, when I do have to compensate like I used to, I struggle much more.

When I was in India last year, one of my hearing aids escaped my fingers as I was taking it out of its box, and it dropped to the floor. When I put it in my ear and turned it on, it was dead.

Heck. Cold sweat.

I had three weeks of travel left. I ended up FedExing the broken hearing aid to my audiologist in Switzerland, who changed a component, and FedExed it back to me. India being India, the whole thing took about 10 days. But at least I had two hearing aids for the end of my stay. Those 10 days when I had to manage with only one hearing aid were terribly annoying and frustrating. I really felt handicapped.

Every now and again, I go “naked ears”. I chat with my neighbour without my hearing aids. Yup, I can still have a conversation. That’s reassuring. It feels a bit muffled, but I can still understand what she says. When I’m looking at her. When she’s facing me. Because she speaks rather loudly and clearly. And then she says something to me with her back turned, or in a lower voice, or over noise, and I remember why I love my hearing aids, and rather than feeling dependent, I feel grateful for them.

Two Days in Stäfa [en]

As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.

A few weeks ago, I spent two days at the Phonak headquarters in Stäfa, near Zurich. If managing a blog and writing for it can be done remotely, meeting people can’t.

Phonak headquarters Stäfa

People are sometimes surprised that I value face-to-face exchanges so much when I am such a “digital” person. Well, I do — you get something out of spending an hour in the same room as somebody that is very hard to reproduce at a distance. I sometimes wonder if it has anything to do with my hearing loss: I need to see people, probably because in my 38 years without hearing aids, I’ve relied a lot on non-verbal communication. I don’t like talking on the phone with people I’ve never met or don’t know well (close friends is another story, I can talk on the phone for hours with them). And as for video conferencing… give me good sound quality and high-quality video which doesn’t freeze or lag, and I might start taking it seriously.

For my third visit, Vincent had set up meetings with various people inside the company, as well as a guided visit of the production centre. I could have stayed in there the whole day, actually — the geek/engineer in me just loves big machines and production chains, obviously.

Robot Arm Electrodes

I was amazed at how much machinery goes into producing the tiny devices that we wear behind (or in) our ears. I also learned that some of the machines used in the process are actually made by Phonak, too. So not only does the production centre contain machines that build hearing aids, it also contains a tool shop that produces machines needed to produce hearing aids. See the idea?

The discussions I had with Kurt, Ora, Katharina, Solange and Jean Anne made me dream about the future (some insights on what’s around the bend, like distance fitting and 24/7 aids — already there in fact) and reconsider some of my assumptions (on device pricing and fitting strategy).

From the first time I set foot in the Phonak headquarters in December, I have to say I really liked the feel of the place. My initial impression was that I had entered a university rather than a company building (it’s a compliment in my book). It’s very open, light, with running water in the lounge — very welcoming. It feels more like a place for research than for commerce, and I like that.

Phonak Stäfa Inside

The people I’ve met so far are all very enthusiastic regarding this blog project. It’s extremely encouraging! We haven’t “launched” officially yet, but the news is spreading word-of-mouth, and we bump into people who say “I heard a rumor… is it true? :-)”

As I digest everything I heard and saw during these two days and create blog post drafts in WordPress, I’m concentrating on the next step in my mission: find motivated bloggers, internal or external, who want to share their stories here!