September 22, 2018

Customized Hearing Solutions

I am often asked “what is the best hearing aid?”  Unfortunately, that question is not the easiest to answer as not everyone has the same hearing loss and lifestyle. As I tell clients, the best hearing aid is the one that works for their needs.  In that sense, every case produces a customized hearing instrument solution.   Of course, there are some cases that stand out for their uniqueness.  Let me share with you one of these cases.

I started seeing “Graham” about a year ago. Currently in his 90s, Graham is an aspiring comedian.  In his prime, he had managed a chain of women’s clothing stores. Graham is a well-liked tall man with leg braces, custom orthotic shoes, a walker, and counter full of various vitamins and medications which helped him maintain his independence. Graham is one of those people with a cup half-full kind of personality that always has a joke ready to go whenever I see him. One of my favorite jokes was about an old man with hearing loss. This old man would sit at the dining room table with his family day after day and just smile and nod as they all chatted about this and that. One day he snuck out of the house and got himself a set of hearing aids. He did not tell his family, but since then he changed his will 3 times.

When I first met Graham he already had behind-the-ear style hearing instruments with custom earmolds. The reason he scheduled an appointment with me was due to his difficulty getting the hearing instruments in his ears. Graham struggled due to poor eye sight, limited dexterity, and a slight tremor in his hand. He also felt some of his difficulty was due to his very good but very short memory. Most of the time he was putting the earmold in sideways but would occasionally get them in only to inadvertently pull the earmold back out while working the hearing instrument behind his ear.

Initially, I worked with Graham to find the best way for him to put his hearing instruments in. We’d spend a considerable amount of time practicing putting the instruments in and out until we both felt he could do it. Then a few days later he’d call me again to say he was struggling.  After several months of this and talking with his son we decided it was time to try something new.

I ordered Graham a set of custom full shell in-the-ear hearing instruments. I was sure he would be able to pop these in with little to no difficulty as now he had only one piece to deal with. But, instead he struggled to tell which was the right-side instrument and which was the left. His fingers would fumble the instruments on the way to his ear and if he got them all the way to his ear, he’d put them in sideways. The battery door caused another problem as he struggled to find it and would consistently think the memory button was the battery door. So, I went back to the drawing board. I had the instruments remade. Now the entire shell of the instrument was red or blue and only the faceplate was beige, so he could easily tell right from left. I removed the memory button and added a raised battery door. This helped him feel the door, but he still struggled to see it. I also had a metal post added to help with insertion and removal. Unfortunately, the post was too small for his fingers, so it did not help as much as I had hoped.

Despite this neither Graham nor I were willing to give up. I consulted with the manufacturer to build not just a custom instrument but a truly customized device. And what we came up with was unique and as out of the box as a hearing instrument can be. I was worried about its bold appearance, but Graham assured me he did not care. He told me if people wanted to look he’d charge them to see it.

The final instrument is a one of a kind with red and blue shells, beige faceplate, dark brown stacked battery doors, and a ridged double long post that finally did help with insertion and removal. Graham was able to tell right from left. He could insert them with little difficulty and find the battery door. Of course, I could not change the size of the battery, so he still struggled aligning it in the door but was able to do it which made everyone happy. The icing on the cake was that even though we started this process mainly to help him put the hearing instrument in himself, Graham found the new technology had improved how he was hearing.

This was one of the most challenging and rewarding cases I’ve had to date. It is exactly what I had envisioned when starting Boutique Hearing. Having the time to not only learn what someone’s needs were but also the time to address their needs and exceed their expectations.