Keeping Hearing Aids on Older Children and Teens

Teens with hearing loss may reject hearing aids because they do not want to be different.. Don Mason/Getty Images

 A lot of attention is often spent educating parents of young children about how to keep their child’s hearing aids on. Infants and toddlers are notorious for finding ingenious ways to remove the hearing aids in the split second a parent looks away. As children get older, the game changes. Parents and teachers have less control over the older child, and peers provide the most powerful feedback about wearing hearing aids.

It’s no longer as simple as a pilot’s cap or retention cords to keep hearing aids in place, which can be frustrating for everyone involved.

It starts at home

Building confidence around accepting hearing aids begins at home. When an infant or young child is identified with hearing loss, parents often struggle with the different stages of grief. It is important to explore and accept those feelings to provide a positive home environment where hearing aids are part of the daily routine. Connecting with support groups and community resources where your child can interact with other children (and adults!) with hearing loss prevents feelings of isolation. Children pick up on parental attitudes so dealing with the grief and moving towards acceptance as a parent will influence your child’s attitude about themselves and their hearing loss.

Sometimes, it is necessary to “pick your battles” about when the hearing aids are worn, but it should be non-negotiable that hearing aids are to be worn at school.

Cosmetics

If your older child with hearing aids suddenly stops wanting to wear the hearing aids, probe to find out why. In some cases, the hearing aids they are wearing are several years old, and the appearance may be an issue. That bright purple or neon green hearing aid that was cool when they were younger may be embarrassing now.

Hearing aids are often able to be re-cased in a more adult color or a discreet tone to blend with hair or skin. Behind-the-ear (BTE) aids may have bulky tubing and ear molds that fill up the ear. If appropriate, your audiologist may be able to order new ear molds that blend with skin tone and fill up less of the outer ear or switch to a slim tube fitting.

FM is an important technology for school use, but the receiver boots used on hearing aids make the hearing aids bulky. One option may be a streamer (which can be worn under clothes) and a single FM receiver that plugs into the streamer and not the hearing aids. Your audiologist can discuss whether the current technology your child is using will support these options or guide your selection of new technology.

Performance

Hearing changes and hearing aids, like all devices, can break. Older children who start rejecting hearing aids because “they don’t work”, need to see their audiologist. Hearing should be evaluated to make sure there has not been a change.

If hearing is stable, the hearing aids need to be evaluated to be sure they are working properly. Real ear verification should be completed to be sure the hearing aids are providing the recommended gain at all the speech frequencies. Finding out where the hearing aids are not performing well is the only way to fix the problem. If the hearing aids are fine in class but don’t work well in the noisy cafeteria, it may be time to add a program designed to reduce background noise and teach the older child how to switch between them. If the child is very involved in sports but sweat/moisture is an issue, using a special seal on the hearing aids or switching to waterproof hearing aids can be discussed.

It is important to note that children with hearing loss may have a learning disability or auditory processing disorder that will impact what the brain does with the sound it receives. Specialized evaluations and interventions are available to improve communication and learning.

Speech

Hearing aids amplify the sounds of speech that are missing due to the hearing loss. Hearing speech is important to producing clear speech. If hearing aids are not worn, speech quality can change and it will be more difficult to monitor the loudness of speech. Teenagers do not want to be different or sound different than their peers.

Up the “cool” factor

Consider adding technological options, such as a Bluetooth streamer to interface with a cell phone, MP3 player, TV or other multimedia devices.

Keeping hearing aids on an older child requires patience and understanding. Enlist your audiologist to help in the process! If you have great ideas that have worked for your family, please share!

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