Have you noticed that your hearing isn’t quite what it used to be? Are any of the following statements true for you?
- I have trouble hearing over the telephone.
- I find it hard to follow conversations when two or more people are talking.
- I often have to ask people to repeat what they are saying.
- I need to turn the TV volume up so loud that others complain.
- I have a trouble hearing when there is a lot of background noise.
- I think that others seem to mumble a lot.
If you answered yes to one or more of the questions in this list of hearing loss symptoms adapted from the National Institutes of Health, you should see your doctor to discuss your concerns. You may need a hearing aid.
“Hearing loss is very prevalent in adults 65 and older and affects those who have it physically and psychologically,” said Kayla Newkirk, Au.D., Southwest Ohio Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Specialists. “As patients lose their hearing and go untreated, communication between them and their loved ones breaks down, and they can become isolated and depressed. They often become less active too. A study led by Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins showed that there is even a link between hearing loss and cognitive problems such as dementia.”
Hearing Loss Linked to Cognitive Decline
Johns Hopkins reported the Dr. Lin’s finding in a 2013 press release, saying that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than older adults whose hearing is normal.
In the Johns Hopkins press release titled Hearing Loss Accelerates Brain Function Decline in Older Adults, Dr. Lin, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, estimated that as many as 27 million Americans over age 50, including two-thirds of men and women aged 70 years and older, suffer from some form of hearing loss, yet only 15 percent of those who need a hearing aid get one.
How to Help a Loved One with Hearing Loss
What if it is not you, but someone you love who has a hearing problem? In addition to encouraging them to see their Primary Care Physician (PCP) or an ENT, you can improve communication with them by following these tips from Dr. Newkirk:
- Make sure you are in a well-lit room and facing the person you are speaking to.
- Speak at a slower pace.
- Increase your volume, but do not yell.
- Minimize background noise.
- Don’t mumble.
Patients Often Delay Seeking Help
Dr. Newkirk said it is very common for a patient to notice hearing loss but to exist in a state of denial for seven to 10 years before doing anything about it.
“It can be very hard to convince someone who either doesn’t think they have a problem or who is very resistant to doing something about it to get a hearing aid,” she said. “Often by the time someone comes to see me, their loved ones have been trying to talk them into getting help with their hearing for a long time. I talk to them about the implications of untreated hearing loss, and I educate them about how far hearing aid technology has come. Hearing aids these days are smaller and more inconspicuous than ever. They have much better technology and better feedback management. They get more sophisticated every year.”
Hearing aids, which Dr. Newkirk describes as tiny little computers, improve hearing by amplifying sound and also suppressing background noise and are personalized to each user.
“I often have patients tell me they tried a friend’s hearing aid and it didn’t work for them,” Dr. Newkirk said. “This is simply because it hasn’t been programmed to meet their individual needs. That is something I, as their audiologist, can do for them based on the results of their hearing test and the feedback they provide to me while programming their hearing aid. There is a prescription to each patient’s hearing aid – they are not ‘one size fits all’ or ‘off the rack.’”
Hearing Aids Can Make A Dramatic Impact
Dr. Newkirk conducted a hearing test and programmed a set of hearing aids for Dorothy Sammons recently, and Ms. Sammons has been thrilled with the impact it has had on her life.
“I’d been having trouble hearing for quite a while,” she admitted. “My daughter would call me on her way home from work to talk, and she would often ask me if I’d heard what she said, and I hadn’t. At church I would miss parts of the sermon. My darling grandchildren would want to tell me secrets, and when they whispered in my ear, I couldn’t hear them. I lived in denial for a long time, accusing others of mumbling. Eventually I had to accept that others heard things I couldn’t. And then I heard about the link between hearing loss and dementia and decided, ‘Ok, I’ve got to do this.’ Dr. Newkirk was so sweet and knowledgeable. She explained all of my options, and I didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever. And the hearing aids she gave me – I loved them immediately. I could talk to my friends, my children and grandchildren. It was wonderful!”
Ms. Sammons said she strongly encourages anyone having trouble hearing to talk to their PCP or to an ENT.
“I’ve been there,” she said. Let me tell you, you may not even realize it, but you lose half your world by not being able to hear. You spend so much time smiling and nodding or shaking your head and pretending to hear, but you don’t. If you dig your heels in and resist getting help it will only get worse. For a long time, I did not want hearing aids, but now that I have them, I would never want to go back. They’re wonderful!”
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