Hearing aids: What the professionals wish you knew
Listen up, folks. It’s time we brought hearing health out of the closet and gave it the respect it deserves – or at least make it an equal partner with vision and dental care. And, if like many in this country you’ve decided to ignore your hearing loss because you have some sort of stigma about wearing hearing aids, take note. Here’s what audiologists wish you knew:
They’re not your grandfather’s hearing aids
Recent technology has enhanced hearing aid performance and capability in almost every category. They’re smaller, work smarter and are more comfortable than the hearing aids your grandparents -- even your parents -- wore 10 years ago.
“The most important thing I want to get across is hearing instruments are really helpful and people shouldn’t be afraid of them,” Valerie Kriney, Au.D., of Northern Jersey ENT Associates, said. “They can really change a person’s life for the better. I remind my patients how big the first cell phone was and now they are like little computers you hold in your hand. That’s how hearing aids are, too. The same technology applies.”
Hearing aids enhance your quality of life
Whether your hearing loss occurred quickly as the result of disease or trauma, or gradually over a long period of time as the result of aging, studies indicate the loss of your sense of hearing can cause you anxiety, depression and social isolation.
That’s because, if you were born with normal hearing, this sense is a big part of the way you communicate with your family, friends and co-workers. When you lose that ability, whether it’s sudden or gradual, you become anxious and frustrated. Studies show those with untreated hearing loss have to work harder to hear, which often makes it difficult and uncomfortable to participate in social gatherings. Those who get treatment for their hearing loss, on the other hand, enjoy greater quality of life.
“I get no greater satisfaction than when someone comes in and tells me how glad they are to have their hearing aids,” Linda Kerner, HIS, of Erichson Hearing Aid in Pennsylvania said. “It’s amazing because hearing instruments open up their world and help them live again.”
Hearing aids may help prevent your brain from shrinking
While most people know that the brain shrinks with age, you may not know that shrinkage is accelerated in those with hearing loss. According to research conducted by Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging, older adults with untreated hearing loss lost an average of a cubic centimeter of brain tissue each year compared to those with normal hearing. MRIs from the study participants showed the atrophy in the regions of the brain responsible for speech and sound.
Fortunately, today’s technology can keep that auditory pathway open, reducing the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s not just the hearing aid, it’s how it works in conjunction with our natural abilities,” Kurt Pfaff, Au.D., of Hearing Care Specialists in Minnesota, said. “We now have a better understanding of how the brain works with respect to hearing and hearing loss. With that, new hearing aids are utilizing the brain’s natural ability. Our ears have to give the brain the right information to process and these new products are doing that better than ever.”
Hearing aids can help you hear telephone conversations better
Not a fan of your smart phone? It may be because your hearing loss prevents you from enjoying it to its full potential. Thanks to recent technology, hearing aids and smart phones are much more compatible. In fact, when connected, hearing aids may allow you to hear better on the phone than those with normal hearing, especially as it relates to speech discrimination in noisy environments.
“Some people are still resistant,” Kimberly Monica, a hearing instrument specialist with Audiology Associates in California, said. “They say they don’t need the cell phone, but it’s usually because they can’t hear well on them.”
Hearing aids can’t enhance your hearing by themselves
Hearing loss is so individual, it’s important for you to see a qualified hearing healthcare professional for testing, diagnosis, treatment and counseling. A note of caution: be prepared to work a little. Just like any other part of your body that’s suffered an injury or impairment, you may need some rehabilitation.
“Hearing aids are so important and are a huge piece of the puzzle, but there’s so much more to it than that,” Brooke Tudor, Au.D., of Hearing Health Center in Michigan, said. “Having success with your hearing aids is all about the counseling and guidance you receive along your hearing journey.”
And, since hearing aid success is directly related to the care you receive from a qualified, hearing healthcare provider, purchasing hearing devices from a big box store or online manufacturer are most likely a big waste of your time and money.
“If I could tell anybody anything, I’d tell them all that glitters isn’t gold,” Dr. Will Helton, of Helton Hearing Care in Montana, said, “People need to see someone who’s qualified and willing to take time to sit down with them. A spur of the moment purchase from a flyer you received in the mail isn’t going to work.”
Hearing is healthcare
You make an annual appointment to see your doctor and your eye doctor – and probably see the dentist twice a year for cleanings, X-rays and a check up. Why don’t you treat your hearing the same way?
“We always tell our patients hearing and vision go together,” Linda Kerner said. “When you get your eyes tested, you should get your hearing tested, too. At least get a baseline hearing test so when we do find hearing loss, we can do something about it.”
And, just like the relationship you have with your family physician, finding a hearing healthcare professional you can trust makes all the difference in the success you’ll have as a hearing aid user.
“Whatever you do, be happy with the hearing healthcare professional you choose,” Kimberly Monica said. “A hearing center is not a Jiffy Lube. Hearing loss is forever. If you’re not happy with your hearing healthcare professional, find someone you’re happy with.”