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Now hear this!

Don’t neglect one of your most important senses

Created date

February 22nd, 2011

Some people think that hearing loss is normal for their age. But there is no such thing people either have normal hearing or they have hearing loss, says John Weigand, Au.D., a board-certified audiologist in Brooklyn, N.Y. Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, is one of the most common types of hearing loss in older adults. According to the National Institute on Aging, approximately 30% of Americans 65 to 74 years of age and 47% of those 75 and older have hearing loss. Men are more likely to have it than women. Very often, hearing loss occurs because of age-related changes in your inner ear. Exposure to loud noise may be partially responsible in some cases. Medication reactions and your family history can also play a role, Weigand says.

Effects on daily functioning

You may not be able to hear door bells, car horns, or alarms. You may not clearly hear your doctor s advice or instructions. The effect on your speech, as well as understanding others, may reduce your physical, functional, emotional, and social well-being. Hearing loss can change how well your brain operates. Your mind functions based on the sensory input you receive, says Vrinda Suneja, M.D. If you have hearing loss, that sensory input is reduced and your brain cannot store information as well. Memory loss and depression may result. Without knowing it, many people with hearing loss make small adjustments over time such as standing closer to people who are speaking or turning up the TV volume. At some point, however, these adjustments may become ineffective.

Hearing aids

Hearing aids can help, but they can t restore your hearing to the way it once was in younger years, Suneja says. You need to have realistic expectations. Did you know? Among older adults, hearing loss is the third most prevalent but treatable disabling condition, behind arthritis and hypertension. Source: Hearing Loss Association of America Hearing aids range from custom made in-the-ear devices to those that fit behind the ear. But regardless of style, the most important aspect of hearing aid selection is technology or circuitry. All hearing aids have a small computer chip that makes decisions for you based on your listening environment. The days of hearing aids simply amplifying sounds are long gone, Weigand explains. No single technology will work for everyone, Suneja says. There are basic hearing aids and very expensive ones. Sometimes a second opinion can help you make the right choice. And in some cases, repairs to a current hearing aid may be less expensive than purchasing a new pair. Many times when people tell me their hearing aids aren t working, it s because the batteries are wearing out. Always keep fresh batteries in stock at home.

Other assistive devices

Many assistive listening and alerting devices are available. For instance, TV listening systems help you enjoy television or radio without being bothered by other sounds around you. A telecoil allows users to receive sound through the circuitry of a hearing aid, rather than through its microphone. This makes it easier to hear conversations over the telephone. A telecoil also helps people hear at facilities (like churches, schools, airports, and auditoriums) that have installed special sound systems. Alert systems for doorbells, smoke detectors, alarm clocks, and phones can give you a visual signal or a vibration. For example, a flashing light can let you know someone is at the door or on the phone. Lip reading or speech reading is another option. Special trainers can help you learn how. If your hearing loss is severe and of a certain type, your doctor may suggest that you talk to an otolaryngologist (a surgeon who specializes in ear, nose, and throat diseases) about a cochlear implant. A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that is implanted under the skin and worn in conjunction with a behind-the-ear external processor. The device picks up sounds, changes them to electrical signals, and sends them past the non-working part of the inner ear and on to the brain.

What to do first

If you notice hearing loss, first see your doctor. It could be something as simple as earwax buildup, Suneja says. See an audiologist that your doctor recommends for a hearing screen. Many factors need to be evaluated to determine the best correction for you, like if you spend time in crowded or mostly quiet places, and who you talk to the most. You should have frequent follow-up visits to see if your hearing aid is performing up to expectations, Suneja adds. According to Weigand, an audiologist should have either a master s or doctoral level professional degree, have a certificate of clinical competence in audiology, and be licensed in the state in which they practice. Most audiologists also hold a hearing aid dispensing license. Keep in mind, however, that not everyone who dispenses hearing aids is an audiologist. Take steps now to improve your hearing. Weigand emphasizes that hearing well keeps you connected to friends, family, and your environment. Good hearing is vitally important for your well-being and safety.

Buying a hearing aid

According to audiologist John Weigand, ask the following questions before you purchase a hearing aid:
  • What is the best type of hearing aid for my hearing loss and lifestyle? Why are you recommending this device?
  • What services do the hearing aids come with regarding loss/repair warranties and warranty renewal? Will there be a charge for batteries or follow-up visits?
  • Do you have walk-in repair hours or is it appointment only?
  • Following a certain period of time, will I be charged for office visits?
  • Does my insurance pay for hearing aids?
  • Can you describe the adjustment/trial period?