By Dr. James M. Davenport, F-AAA, CCC-A –
Has your audiologist recommended “binaural hearing devices”? Don’t panic. Binaural simply means “two ears” – which is what nature gave you. Two ears are, indeed, better than one for a number of reasons. Just like our eyes, our brains are wired to receive sound from both ears. Many first time hearing aid wearers think starting with just one hearing aid may be easier to adjust to or save them some money; however, two hearing aids are truly better than one.
Here are some reasons why:
- Better localization – the ability to tell where sounds are coming from
- Better hearing in background noise
- Better sound quality (“mono” versus “stereo”)
- Better hearing for soft sounds such as children’s voices and sounds of nature
- Less strain on you while listening – with only one hearing aid you may often strain to hear various sounds and become fatigued, with two hearing aids listening is more relaxed
- Listening balance – you won’t be turning your “good” ear to hear. Higher success and satisfaction – studies indicate people who wear two hearing aids are much more satisfied with their hearing aids.
Studies have also shown when only one hearing aid is worn and the other ear is deprived of sound, the “use it or lose it” principle applies, causing the onset of auditory deprivation in the non-amplified ear. In other words, the word recognition ability in the unaided ear decreases from lack of stimulation – and this spells trouble for those who think they can successfully add a second aid – later.
So, you may save a few dollars by going the one-hearing-aid route but you may also find that one hearing aid causes more trouble than what your savings is worth. Let’s take a closer look at why two hearing aids are almost always better than the one-hearing aid approach to hearing loss.
Localization is the ability to detect and determine the source of a sound. It’s a natural and sophisticated process that enables you to pinpoint the exact location of a bird twittering in the trees 100 yards away, for example. The reason for this is simple. Sound travels in waves – disturbances in the air. The hair cells in our inner ears have the miraculous ability to turn mechanical sound waves into electrical impulses that are sent to the hearing centers of the brain where the sound is interpreted and localization occurs. When that bird tweets and twitters, the sounds it makes reach one ear slightly ahead of the other ear. If the bird is to your right, the right ear hears the sound a split second before the left ear.
The brain is able to localize the sound because of this split second difference in the time it takes the sound to be processed. The hearing centers of the brain are able to pinpoint the location and source of the sound. Localization is an essential part of the listening experience. It warns us of danger, points us in the direction of a distant caller or tells us which machine is running on the factory floor.
Many new hearing devices employ wireless communication between the two instruments – allowing them to work together to ensure localization cues are maintained between the two ears. The left and right hearing aids communicate with each other to ensure they are utilizing the same listening strategies in different environments. When two hearing devices are wirelessly linked, they “talk with each other”. This allows the two hearing aids to improve the ability to locate the direction of sounds and ultimately improve your listening experience.
No, we’re not talking about music here. Advantages listed of wearing two hearing aids include improved listening in background noise as well as reduced strain while listening. Using two hearing aids, properly tuned to address the different hearing loss of each ear, cuts through some of this background noise enabling you to hear more clearly. The brain retrains itself to filter out unnecessary noise while picking up the sounds of your dinner companion without having to turn your head so your hearing aid is pointing directly at the speaker. This not only improves your ability to listen in background noise, but you will no longer have to strain to hear.
Improved Sound Quality
Mono versus stereo sound. Which sounds better? Stereo, of course. And with two hearing aids, properly adjusted to meet the differing hearing needs of each ear, you enjoy a better quality of sound. In simple terms, the world sounds better in stereo.
A soft sound may go undetected by one ear but picked up by the other ear – the one closer to the source of the sound. Your ability to hear the soft sounds that you’ve always taken for granted is greatly improved when you go binaural because both ears are adjusted to the proper level to hear even the soft whisper of a loved one – and that’s something that you just can’t put a price tag on.
The natural state of binaural hearing is hearing with both ears in balance. Your audiologist can adjust each hearing aid to fit your hearing needs, delivering hearing balance and a much improved listening experience.