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A senior moment: Can you hear me now?

By Danna Downing

Did you ever hear the amusing story about the guy who, after speaking with his doctor about his wife’s apparent hearing loss, went home to do a simple hearing test? The concerned hubby found her in the kitchen, cooking dinner. Per the doctor’s suggestion, he distanced himself about 40 feet away from the lady and asked her a question in his normal speaking tone.

“What’s for dinner tonight, honey?” he asked. No response. He moved ten feet closer and repeated the question. No response. He repeated the process three more times until he was standing right behind her in the kitchen. At this point, his wife turns around angrily and screams, “For heaven’s sake, dear, for the fifth time, CHICKEN!”

Hearing loss is really no laughing matter. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 1 in 3 people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss. Nearly half of those over the age of 75 has notable difficulty in hearing well. It is a widespread problem caused by noise exposure, aging, disease, and heredity. Most persons with hearing loss have trouble understanding medical advice, responding to warnings, being able to hear the doorbell or phone ringing, or responding to alarms and audio warnings. In addition, many persons begin to isolate themselves because they are unable to fully participate in conversation.

Hearing loss is often a “sneaky thief.” It can creep up on us gradually until we are straining to hear conversations. Many lose their ability to hear high-frequency consonant sounds that make it hard to distinguish between like-sounding words such as “sleep” and “keep.” It can be particularly hard to understand women and children. Trying to hear becomes exhausting. This means it is time to talk with a doctor and seek help from a licensed audiologist. All new audiologists are required to have a Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree which typically takes four years of post-graduate education. Audiologists must be licensed to practice in the state of Michigan.

The first key step is to check with your insurance providers to determine what coverage may be available to offset hearing loss expenses. Typical insurance policies do not cover the cost of hearing aids. Hearing aids can be costly. Medicare does not cover the cost. However, Medicare Part C plans (supplemental insurance) through a third party can include such coverage. If you are a veteran, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs may cover your costs. Medicaid can cover most hearing aid costs.

Next, be sure to work with your hearing specialist to understand your treatment needs and options. Unlike hearing amplifiers, registered hearing aids require an audiological evaluation and prescription, just like prescription eyewear. Hearing aids are also categorized as a Class 1 medical device by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Hearing aids require a significant investment, so you may want to consider shopping at a big box store hearing center to get lower prices. Be sure to ask how their testing compares to that of an audiologist and if their hearing specialists are licensed and follow strict guidelines for referral to an audiologist when issues go beyond their expertise. Also ask if they use “real fit” protocols and what kind of follow-up support you can expect with your purchase. For many seniors, especially those who already have moderate hearing loss, the extra support provided by in-person or remote audiology care, including the ability to change the settings and sensitivity as the user’s needs change, may make them worth the expense. Plus, most audiologists stay up-to-date about advances in hearing technology and can inform you of new products or services as they come onto the market.

Consider new ways of coping with hearing loss. Let people know you have a hearing problem and ask them to speak more clearly and slowly. Pay attention to what is being said and facial expressions of the person speaking to you. Let the person know if you do not understand what has been said.

If you have already invested in hearing aids, be sure to use them consistently because the majority of our hearing is done with the brain, not the ears. It is critical to expose the brain to normal sound levels, so the brain continues to categorize sounds as it once did before hearing loss. Research led by Dr Frank Lin, a hearing specialist and epidemiologist affiliated with Harvard University, has documented the extent of hearing problems in older adults in association with cognitive impairment. According to his research older people with hearing loss show a cognitive decline thirty-two percent greater than those with intact hearing.

Finally, congratulate yourself for taking action to preserve your hearing. It is one of the best investments you can make.

FDA OKs cheaper over-the-counter aids

Be sure to read this important article posted on the AARP website (aarp.org) to learn if these devices might be helpful for you. Scan the QR code on the right with your phone camera to see the article. Also visit the AARP online Hearing Resource Center to learn more about how to prevent and manage hearing loss.

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