Monday, April 30, 2018

When should you replace your hearing aids?

Over time, like any other piece of equipment used on a daily basis, hearing aids will break down and need to be replaced. While most hearing aids are built to last for several years, they will need to be replaced at some point. The better you take care of your investment, the longer it will last. But no pair of hearing aids will last forever. 
At Coastal Audiology, we want you to get the most out of your investment but we also don't want you "throwing good money after bad." At some point, we have done all we can to extend the life of your hearing aids and it will be time to upgrade them. Here are some guidelines for when it may be time to so. 

  •  Your hearing loss changes

Annual hearing exams are vital to determine if your hearing needs change, as well as for having your hearing aids fine-tuned to adjust for any changes. Your hearing test is your "prescription". It is how your Audiologist fine tunes your devices to match your hearing loss. While we at Coastal Audiology will recommend something that gives you a little "room to grow", we cannot predict future hearing loss. More severe changes in your hearing can often mean that a new pair of hearing aids are in order. At Coastal Audiology, we specialize in advanced diagnostics and believe that your hearing problems are unique and you deserve an individualized plan of care and be recommended a device that will best suit you, your hearing loss, and lifestyle. 

  • Technology changes

Hearing aid technology is constantly evolving, just as it is for cell phones, computers, and other modern devices. In the last several years, advances in hearing aid technology include wireless connectivity to phones and other devices as well as enhanced speech-in-noise detection. Most of of the "Big 6" manufacturers now have direct-to-iPhone hearing aids with their own apps for connecting to cell phones, allowing users to adjust volume, change programs, choose favorite location settings, stream phone calls, listen to music and more--all through your hearing aids! Moreover, hearing aids are not only advancing but also are becoming less expensive. A lower-priced hearing aid today is very likely to have a wider frequency response and better fidelity. While you may be comfortable with your old pair of hearing aids and reluctant to change, you may be surprised by the latest improvements – and function – of digital hearing aids. 

  • Lifestyle changes

Your lifestyle can change in countless ways and indicate that it’s time to consider a new pair of hearing aids. Perhaps you need hearing aids that are easier to handle because you have arthritis or dexterity problems, more power because you’ve retired and now require less directness, or you’ve taken up a healthy activity such as swimming that requires waterproof hearing aids. Or, you’ve taken up jogging or hiking – activities that may require hearing aids that can stand up to more rugged environments.

  • New insurance benefits

Most insurance companies that have a hearing aid benefit will allow members to upgrade their hearing aids every two to five years and can help offset the cost of a new pair of hearing aids. In other words, there may be no better time for trying out the latest in hearing aid technology. And, as previously mentioned, improvement in lower-priced hearing aids have made high-quality hearing more affordable for everyone. Additionally, need-based hearing aid assistant programs often allow hearing aid wearers to re-apply to their program every 3-5 years. If they still meet the qualifications, this can give even those on a tight budget access to newer, more sophisticated hearing aid technology. 

  • Frequent repairs are needed

Like your car, repairs to your hearing aids can become more frequent as they age. Another point to consider is that most manufacturers stop making parts for hearing aids after five years. For those that do make parts, repairs for hearing aids over five years old are significantly more expensive and the work is warrantied for no more than about 6 months typically. While plunking down money for a new set of hearing aids may be tough, repairing the same hearing aids over and over can get quite costly when the reliability goes down. At this point, it’s important to weigh your options. The price of repairing an out-of-warranty pair and buying a new pair of hearing aids is probably not that much different, especially if insurance benefits are helping to pay for a new pair. Again, you may be perfectly comfortable with your current pair of hearing aids and would rather opt for repairs rather than buying new. Your best bet is to talk with your Audiologist to see if replacing your current pair is your best option.

At Coastal Audiology, we want you to hear your best for your lifetime. Sometimes that means upgrading your hearing aids. Sometimes that means using assistive listening devices in conjunction with your hearing aids. Other times it means aural rehab classes or programs that help you learn to use your hearing to it's full capacity. Improved hearing is a journey--not a destination. We would love to partner with you and be your tour guide on your journey to better hearing for a lifetime!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Summer Travel Tips for Hearing Aids

Though you wouldn't know it from the up and down temperatures we've experienced lately, it will be hot and humid before you know it! And then the kick-off of the summer travel season. Follow these simple tips to keep your hearing aids in tip-top shape while away from home.

Don't use your hearing aids in environments where they may get wet, dirty, sticky.

During summer vacation, you may find yourself enjoying swimming pools, sprinklers, saunas, and hot tubs. But those are no-no's for hearing aids. Avoid activities where your hearing aids may become wet from a dip in the pool, kids splashing, or the hot steam of a sauna or hot tub. Going on a cruise and signing up for off-ship excursions? Make sure to pack an extra case that you can use to safely tuck away your hearing aids temporarily until conditions improve. If you haven't done so already, now is a great time to invest in a dehumidifier that can aid in removing any moisture that may build up inside the hearing aids from humid climates, freak rainstorms, and more.

Don't keep your hearing loss a secret

Let people know you have a hearing loss and wear hearing aids. Uber/Lyft drivers, cab drivers, bell hops, concierge--these individuals are there to make your transport to your destination and your time when you arrive at your destination more comfortable. By filling them in on the fact that you have a hearing loss, they are better-able to assist to make sure you understand directions, instructions, travel alerts, and more. Additionally, they may know about accommodations for hearing-impaired listeners, such as captioned tours and alerting systems in the event of an emergency.

Don't forget the extra supplies!

It's a fact: resorts charge more for things like snacks, medicine, and first aid items. Hearing aid batteries are no exception. Speciality items such as dessicant bricks and wax guards are likely not available unless you can find a hearing aid shop at your destination that has your same brand of hearing devices. While packing for your trip, take an inventory of batteries, wax guards, and extra domes. Call us before you go so we can help you get the supplies you'll need for the duration of your trip. Finding supplies is the last thing you want to have to worry about while trying to relax and enjoy your vacation!

Seek out hearing-loss friendly destinations

Going to a Broadway show? Anxiously anticipating the talent on-board your cruise ship? Taking a tour of a museum? Many public venues have hearing-impaired friendly technology to help you make the most of the experience. Hearing loops allow hearing aid users with t-coils to have direct input of the venue's sound system which cuts out background noise, allowing for a clearer sound to be transmitted through the user's hearing aids. It is inconspicuous and works simply by activating the telecoil on the wearer's hearing aid with the flip of a switch or push of a button. Smart phone apps, captioned services--all can enhance the experience of the hearing- impaired traveler.

Don't let a hearing loss spoil your vacation. With a little planning, your trip can be seamless. For more tips and tricks, contact us! We'd love to help!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

"She STILL can't hear me!"

This is going to be a much more personal, passionate post than past blog entries. The issues discussed below are obstacles I face everyday as a Doctor of Audiology and they aren't solved by slapping a widget on someone's ear and yelling "next!". I hope you will stick with me through it and return frequently for other entries regarding hearing healthcare.

I fit numerous sets of hearing aids each week. Most of them on new users who have never worn hearing aids before. I always encourage my patients to bring someone with them to this visit. I find people respond better when they have a familiar voice to hear first through their hearing aid versus MY voice that they may not be familiar with beyond our first visit at their hearing test and subsequent hearing aid evaluation. I find that most people do not bring a communication partner with them. Whether is is because their adult children don't live here or are at work and can't break away or because they are trying to keep their hearing loss and decision to wear hearing aids--I'm not sure. Regardless of the reason, this can sometimes make adjustment to the devices more difficult than it has to be. But we adapt and hopefully overcome.  This isn't a post about the importance of bringing a communication partner with you to the hearing aid fitting, although that IS important and should be done if at all possible. This post dives a little deeper into hearing loss, what happens when it goes untreated, and what hearing aids can and cannot do.

Hearing Loss

Ask anyone if they know someone with hearing loss and they will most likely tell you emphatically, "YES!"  Hearing loss is the THIRD most common chronic health condition behind arthritis and heart disease. Yet only 1 in 5 people who would benefit from amplification actually use it. Perhaps it is because it is largely an "invisible" disability. It may also be due to the fact that it can be an expensive out-of-pocket investment not typically covered by private health insurance or Medicare. Perhaps it is the perceived stigma of hearing loss and it being "an old person's problem." I could spend all day hypothesizing on the reasons. I've heard so many of them over my career as an Audiologist. The bottom line is this: the average person waits 7-10 years from the time they think they have a hearing loss until the time they actually take steps to do something about it. What I've found in my office is there is some precipitating event that brings about the decision to FINALLY do something about their hearing loss. Some of the more common ones I've heard over the years are:
  • Finally having health insurance that covers part of the cost.
  • Losing a promotion or job (or the threat of it) due to the untreated hearing loss.
  • Losing a marriage or relationship (or the threat of it) due to the untreated hearing loss.
  • An embarrassing event that occurred because of the untreated hearing loss.
There are many, many more but these are the ones that come to mind immediately. People typically wait a long time, longer than they should, to do something about their hearing loss. It isn't just that it irritates family members, co-workers, or employees. It isn't just the social or emotional toll the hearing loss can take on a person. The problem goes much deeper. 

How we hear

While we tend to think the ears are responsible for hearing, they really only play a small part in hearing. In the most simplistic explanation, the ears capture the sound, sound waves then vibrate the eardrum, which then transmits the sound through mechanically moving the three bones in the middle ear. This starts a traveling wave of fluid, causing tiny nerve fibers (hair cells) to move along the cochlea and this movement of the hair cells change this movement to an electrical signal. This electrical signal then transmits the sound to the acoustic nerve where the information is sent to the brain. The brain perceives these electrical signals as sound. The brain then decides what the sounds mean and how to respond.  That is how we hear in a very simple nutshell. 

But what happens when the ear itself is damaged? Well, then you have hearing loss. In cases of sensorineural hearing loss, the most common type of hearing loss, there is some type of damage along the cochlea or acoustic nerve which impacts the electrical signal that gets sent to the brain. The hair cells in the cochlea, they all don't move at the same time. Certain hair cells move at certain times when a sound that is a specific pitch or frequency activates it. Because of the anatomic arrangement of the cochlea, the hair cells that pick up high frequency/high pitch sounds are at the entrance of the cochlea and they curl around, just like a snail's shell going from highs to lows at the center of the cochlea. For this reason, high pitched sounds like jets, jackhammers, and gun shots can irreversibly damage the delicate hair cells. This may occur over time or it may take just one exposure to cause damage. As for how this relates to how we hear this is the over-simplified reason why people say "It's not that I can't hear, it's that I can't understand what they said!" Hair cells that contribute to understanding, sounds like /t/, /f/, /s/, /th/ which are high-frequency sounds. When those hair cells are damaged and/or destroyed, one may hear someone speaking, but not be able to understand what the speaker is saying.  

While the brain actually does the heavy-lifting when it comes to figuring out what needs to be done with the sound when it comes into the brain via the electrical signal, the ears do play a vital role. And if the ears are "broken", meaning the hair cells are damaged or destroyed, the brain is getting a garbled signal which effects how the brain processes the sound coming into it. Hearing aids help--but they aren't the great equalizer.

So what can hearing aids do to help?

Modern digital hearing aids improve everyday! When I think back to the beginning of my career to now, I'm overjoyed with the advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology. Hearing aids used to just amplify sounds. Which was great if you needed everything overall louder. But in the cases of those with primarily just high-frequency hearing loss, volume and loudness isn't what is needed; clarity and understanding is what is needed. Today's modern digital hearing aids can be programmed based off the prescription, which is the hearing test.

It is important to note that hearing aids are just that--aids.  They use the residual hearing, which is the hearing someone has left, to process sound. Hearing aids are not restoring the hearing someone has lost.  In a hearing aid fitting, we are attempting to use the remaining hearing to maximum capacity to make sounds louder when needed and brighter, sharper, clearer to improve the understanding of speech. This won't restore speech understanding to 100%. There is no visual equivalent of 20/20 in hearing loss. Hearing aids will not make someone hear perfectly with hearing aids. Even individuals with hearing loss don't hear and understand 100% of what is said.

"She STILL can't hear me!"

I recently fit a second pair of hearing aids on a long-time patient. Her first set of hearing aids were over 8 years old! They had long seen better days! (The average life span of a pair of hearing aids is about 4-6 years.) Sadly, in the past eight years, her overall health has declined dramatically. She has a caretaker that assists her and her husband a few days a week and on this day, the caretaker brought her in for a hearing aid check to see how the hearing aids were working for her. She was quite despondent when she arrived and her caretaker was expressing frustration that she wasn't hearing well with her new hearing aids. 

We first addressed a fit issue. The new set of hearing aids are a different style than her first pair so I had to counsel her again on proper insertion and removal. We made some adjustments and she was pleased with what we did. The next issue was that her caretaker said she wasn't hearing her and she wasn't hearing her husband. Issues like this often take several questions to unpack and figure out what the actual issue is. At one point, her caretaker got quite upset with me and said "I've helped three grandparents with hearing aids and they could all hear me! She has brand new hearing aids and she STILL can't hear me!" This is where I realized we needed to take a step back and discuss things unique to my patient that couldn't be compared to anyone else the caretaker had ever helped. That hearing loss, environment, other health conditions, and cognitive issues needed to be discussed. What hearing loss is and how the hearing aids are trying to "fill-in-the-gaps" where damage has occurred and that often means that someone will still miss parts of the conversation even with great hearing aids. 

First and foremost, even if someone's audiogram (their hearing test) looks identical to another person's, you cannot make generalizations about their hearing ability based on the test alone. I have no idea what the audiograms looked like of the three grandparents the caretaker helped; what I do know is that MY patient has a significant hearing loss as well as a number of other health problems. I know her husband has breath-support issues and is often in another room entirely when he attempts to talk to his wife. I know from my interactions with her caretaker that she (the caretaker) has a very low voice that even I have struggled to hear in the past, and I have normal hearing. I know that because of her other heath issues she doesn't get out as much as she used to and watches a lot of TV now. This is what I do know. 

More than anything else, I want patients to be successful with amplification. I want them to have the confidence to return to activities they once loved but shied away from due to their hearing loss. I want relationships restored and improved that struggled due to a hearing loss. I want people to get new jobs and promotions because they are hearing better, understanding directions, and contributing to their team. I want people who were once plagued with overwhelming feelings of listening fatigue more present in their life because they are now able to listen with less effort. I want so much for my patients. But we have to first tackle the realistic expectations of what hearing aids can and cannot do. There are an infinite number of scenarios regarding background noise, male versus female speakers, ceiling height, carpet versus hard floors, distance from the speaker, room acoustics, etc. that can impact how successful someone is with hearing aids. This is one reason hearing aids aren't something you just go pick off a shelf at a big-box store. It is a face-to-face discussion about listening needs, struggles, other health conditions, and more so I can assist with choosing the technology I feel will best meet someones needs and wants. Success isn't achieved by picking the least expensive, the most expensive, the one your insurance will pay for, or what your best-friend's-aunt's-neighbor's-sister-in-law was fit with last year! It needs to be decided after a thorough hearing evaluation and a hearing aid evaluation where YOUR listening troubles and needs are discussed and a solution that may best suit YOU is recommended. Only then can you begin a (hopefully) successful journey to better hearing. 



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

(un)Bundle of Joy

In the mid-late 1970's, the profession of Audiology went through a metamorphosis of sorts with regards to dispensing hearing aids. It was only thanks to a few brave, rebellious souls that permitted Audiologists to actually dispense hearing aids. Prior to that, hearing aid dispensers were the only ones allowed to fit hearing aids. Because of Audiology's early roots tied so closely to "speech correctionists" (now known as speech-language pathologists), the profession of Audiology has only recently started to separate itself from the field of speech pathology. Unfortunately for Audiology, it has been under the umbrella of Speech Pathology for so long, breaking free to pave the profession's own independent way has been difficult.

This has not been easy.  Because hearing aid dispensers lumped the devices (i.e. the hearing aids) and the services to fit and maintain the hearing aids together as one price many, many years ago, that trend continued when Audiologists began dispensing hearing aids. It's only been in the past decade that we've seen the trend of "unbundling"--breaking up prices completely--patients pay separately for all products and services from the hearing aids, to the tubing, office visits, earmold impressions, earmolds, etc. The benefit to the patient is that there is transparency; they see each charge and what it is for. They can save literally thousands of dollars up front as opposed to the bundled model--where everything is included but no one knows the value or price of the goods and services they are receiving. 

Several years ago, we at Coastal Audiology tried something similar. We called it Pay-as-you-Go and while we had a few early adoptees, most people were skeptical;
  •  "how will I know how many visits I'll need?",
  •  "I don't want to be "nickel and dimed" to death-I'd rather pay more and know that I won't be charged again.",
  •  "why isn't anyone else doing this?",
  •  "why are YOU doing this?".

 The list goes on and on. Because it is so different than what people have become accustomed to and heard about regarding hearing aids, they are fearful that something is wrong. Truly, nothing was wrong when we began Pay-as-You-Go. It was an effort to offer people, many who would have never been able to afford hearing aids, the chance to be fit with great hearing aids and pay for the service as they needed it, rather than up front whether they needed it or not. For some patients, a bundled plan of care was a huge savings to them. For the patients we saw each week for one issue or another, or who had to have numerous earmold remakes, tube changes, dome replacements, etc-they more than got their "money's worth" as they could come in whenever they liked and never pay anything additional.

However, for the patient that bought hearing aids under a bundled plan of care and never returned (whether due to not needing them because they were doing well,  moving away, death, etc) they paid for services they didn't need. For these individuals, an unbundled plan of care would've been a better option for them. If they moved after purchasing their devices, they would need to find a provider in the place they moved to, and that provider would most likely charge them for their professional time and talent to do what needed to be done for the patient. Essentially, the patient would pay twice for service to their hearing aid(s). 

According to several studies, hearing aid adoption rate is between 17%-25%. This basically means that of those that need hearing aids, only a quarter of them actually take the steps to purchase them. While issues such as vanity do play a role in whether someone moves forward with hearing aids once they know they need them, in my own personal office it comes down to cost time and time again. Despite the fact that hearing is healthcare, most insurance plans do not believe that it is and therefore most have little to no benefit. Which means that the patient is responsible for the majority if not all of the cost. On a daily basis, I encounter patients who assume that Medicare will cover hearing aids. They don't! For those individuals who select a Medicare supplement because they advertise a hearing aid benefit, sadly, if the plan falls under the same payment guidelines as Medicare, they won't pay either. False advertising at it's best! There are many insurance plans that have a hearing aid "discount" program such as Tru-Hearing, Amplifon Hearing, etc. but we recently made the decision to pull out of most of these plans as it hindered us from providing top-notch care to our patients because these programs limited the number of follow-up visits, limited the procedures they would cover, and many more reasons that I'll discuss in another post one day soon.

My goal has always been to serve my patients to the best of my ability. I can't do that when someone else is the puppeteer and I'm the puppet they're trying to control. They don't know my patients like I know my patients. I think decisions about care should belong to the patient and myself as the provider--NOT to an insurance company or third party who has never laid eyes on my patient and knows nothing more about my patient than what is on an insurance roster. 

So, what does all this mean for our patients? Options are coming. Over-the-counter devices, "hearables", hearing apps--they are all changing the face of hearing healthcare. The traditional model of hearing healthcare is changing and we will do our best to keep you up to speed as the information comes to us and we can figure out what it means for how we will do business. I sincerely thank you for your business. This month we are celebrating our 13th year. Hurricane Irma (and now Hurricane Maria) overshadowed and delayed our celebration but it has been an honor to serve and we look forward to many more years to come serving the residents of Pooler and beyond.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hearing Aid batteries aren't "hearing pills"!

Earlier this week, I heard a story about a colleague who once worked in a hospital setting. They were citing an example of patient misunderstanding with regards to hearing aid instructions--use and care, insertion, removal, expectations vs. reality, the fact that the batteries go in the hearing aids; you don't swallow them! 
As Audiologists, we see things like this every day. And part of the reason is because people who need hearing aids don't have hearing aids, people who have hearing aids won't wear their hearing aids as prescribed, or because the individual has already suffered the kind of cognitive decline that a pair of well-fit, well-worn hearing aids could've helped combat. 
I don't know what became of this individual who once swallowed their "hearing pills", but I can say with confidence that swallowing hearing aid batteries does not improve your hearing! Here are some tips to get the most out of your investment:

 1) Don't put off having your hearing      tested. I test people every week that tell me that they either a) have never had a hearing test or b) haven't had a hearing test since elementary school. Make it a point to have a baseline hearing test once you enter adulthood and about every 5 years after that baseline, sooner if you notice difficulty hearing, understanding, or are experiencing in noises in your ears (tinnitus.)

 2) If you are diagnosed with hearing loss and hearing aids are recommended, do what it takes to follow that recommendation. Hearing loss rarely gets better. It almost always gets worse. The longer the nerve fibers responsible for hearing go deprived, the greater the risk of long term side effects of untreated hearing loss such as cognitive decline, anxiety, depression, social isolation--just to name a few! 

 3) Actual wear the hearing aids you invest in! If something isn't right, go back to where you were fit and share what you are experiencing. Reach out to your hearing healthcare provider to work together for solutions to remedy whatever issues you are experiencing. It's important to remember that hearing aids aren't the great equalizer-they don't miraculously make someone with hearing loss hear like they no longer have hearing loss. However, a thorough evaluation, followed by a sound recommendation, followed by well-fit hearing aids, coupled with realistic aural rehabilitation will do amazing things for the quality of life of the hearing-impaired listener. 

And finally

  4) Most people don't just wake up one day with hearing loss. For most, it is a gradual decline after age, noise exposure, medications, etc do their part to slowly erode our ability to hear and understand those around us. Because of that, even after you make the wise decision to be fit with hearing aids, realize that that isn't all you have to do. You need to take care of your investment. Clean them. Routinely see your provider so they can perform a more thorough cleaning. Have a hearing test regularly (i. e. every 1-2 years) so the prescription in your hearing aids can be updated to reflect any changes in hearing you've experienced. Most eyeglass prescriptions don't last forever-neither does your hearing loss! 

Hearing is healthcare and should be treated as such. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What I wish they knew

Today I had the pleasure of seeing a patient who I've been treating for about three years. What originally brought her in was difficulty hearing her family and customers after the death of her husband. He husband was the one that typically dealt with travelers visiting their business. After his death, she had to take on more of an active role and found herself struggling to hear, interact, and conduct basic business. She also noticed she hadn't been hearing her family as well. She had been so busy taking care of her ailing husband, that she'd let her own health needs slide, including her hearing.

She has been successfully wearing hearing aids since she took that important first step and had her hearing tested and chose to be fit with hearing aids. She has been diligent in getting regular cleanings from our office and well as maintaining them at home. Her most recent hearing test is less than a year old and the hearing aids were programmed to the test at the time. So why did she come to see me today?

She scheduled an appointment because she 'was having trouble with her hearing aids." When she arrived today, she told me, "my kids are fussing because they say I'm not hearing them. I told them, 'well I have a hearing loss and I'm wearing my hearing aids. You'll just have to speak up!' but I was wondering if you could check them." After she removed them, I excused myself so I could clean and check the aids. Because she has been so proactive about maintaining her hearing aids, they were in great shape except for a clogged wax guard on the right side. I cleaned, vacuumed, and did a listening check before returning to the fitting room to chat with her more.

In our conversation, it was clear she knew what her hearing aids were capable of. She remarked that when riding in a car with people around her same age, they were happy to talk towards her instead of towards the car window. She told me that when she has lunch with friends, they opt for quieter places at non-peak times. If she encountered someone that she couldn't hear, she wold tell them she had a hearing loss and ask them to speak up and/or clearer. To an Audiologist, she's a dream patient!

So why are her adult children fussing at her that she isn't hearing them?

Knowing all the things I know about my patient, I have to go back to realistic expectations and not from my patient but from her family. Here are a few things I wish the friends and family of my patients knew:

  1. Hearing aids aren't "the great equalizer". They don't make someone with a hearing loss hear "normally" when they are wearing them. They simply augment the residual hearing, the hearing someone has left, and use that to try to make things louder and clearer. 
  2. If you're walking away from a hearing aid wearer, not only are they not able to see your mouth when you're speaking to them, your voice is getting softer and softer with every step you take. Don't expect someone with hearing loss to hear and/or understand you while you're walking away from them. 
  3. It is always a good idea to get the attention of the hearing aid wearer  before you begin speaking to them. A simple, "Bob?"  and letting them acknowledge they know you are talking to them will help tremendously before you get halfway through what you're saying and realize they aren't even listening to you or didn't know you were speaking to them will save your sanity! 
  4. Even with hearing aids, many people prefer to watch television with closed captioning. If it means they are able to enjoy television without constantly asking you "what did they say?" that's a win!
  5. Even with hearing aids, it is unrealistic to expect a hearing aid wearer to hear you if you are in one room and they are in another. You can't expect the wife with hearing loss-- wearing hearing aids in the kitchen standing at the sink with the water running, dishwasher going, and pot boiling on the stove--to hear the husband that asks her what time dinner will be ready. Even those with normal hearing probably cannot hear you!
  6. Hearing aids aren't maintenance free. They require (pretty much) daily maintenance. They require periodic more deep clean and checks by the Audiologist. They will use batteries. It will require regular hearing test to assess hearing acuity and to update the prescription in the hearing aids as necessary due to changes in hearing. This is normal and should be expected. Regardless of "how much you paid for them", hearing aids require regular maintenance if they are to last and be worth the investment made. 
These are just a few of the things I wish family and friends of my patients knew. I could go on and on but these are the high points. What did I miss? What are some things you wish non-hearing aid wearers knew?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What if hearing loss "hurt'?

I spoke to a Chiropractor friend of mine earlier this week. By 3:30 p.m., his office had already seen 56 patients. I can't imagine seeing 56 patients in one day! But that's a fairly normal day for this doctor. People come to him for relief from pain, among other things. After he adjusts them, they feel better, which is obviously the reason people continue to make their follow-up appointments.

Which got me thinking. What would people do if hearing loss was painful? I'm not talking about ear infections and the like. I'm talking about normal (physically) pain-free sensorineural hearing loss that plagues most people with hearing loss. If the treatment involved temporary relief from pain until the next time, would there be more adopters of treatment by way of hearing aids? I'm not saying I wish hearing loss hurt; what I'm saying is I think it would be easier to convince someone with a newly diagnosed hearing loss to take that next step towards amplification if they had a nagging, painful reminder of their ailment.

As an Audiologist, it is so incredibly frustrating to see a patient that needs hearing aids, knows they need hearing aids, but decides to not use amplification. It leaves me scratching my head, asking, "why did they even bother to get a test if they weren't going to accept help?!?" Which leads me back to my question of, "if it physically hurt them, would it have made a difference?" I think about patients of mine that have had hip and knee replacements and most say that what drove them to having it done was the excrutiating pain they felt, the activities it kept them from doing. In general, their quality of life suffered as a result of their ailment.

Yet, many people with hearing loss say they can 'get by' without hearing aids. They never stop to think what the consequences of not taking the next step to amplification will be. While they may be able to ignore their hearing loss because it doesn't physically hurt, few consider the consequences of untreated hearing loss. Studies have linked untreated hearing loss to:
  • fatigue
  • reduced job performance and earning potential
  • impaired memory and inability to learn new tasks
  • reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
  • depression
  • increased stress
  • avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
  • irritability
  • anger and negativism
  • social rejection and loneliness
  • diminished psychological and overall health
Hearing loss is not just an issue for the elderly and infirm. It happens to people of all ages. Those who have difficulty hearing can experience such distorted and incomplete communication that it seriously impacts their professional and personal lives, which can lead to isolation and withdrawal.