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Are You Hearing the Way You Want to Hear?

By: Larry Medwetsky, Ph.D.

The happiest times in our lives are probably those moments we spend with family and friends. The enjoyment of an afternoon with friends, family gatherings over the holidays or important occasions such as graduations or weddings are what memories are made of. But what if you couldn't catch everything that others were saying. "I can't hear you, there's too much noise"; "You're not looking at me and I have no idea what you're saying". "If he didn't mumble so much, I'd understand what he's saying". These scenarios are a frequent occurrence for a large segment of our population. In fact, permanent hearing loss is very common with over 10% of the population experiencing some degree of hearing loss. In seniors, this percentage is even greater with approximately 33% of those over 65 years of age and approximately 50% of individuals older than 75 years of age having some degree of hearing loss ( ). Because hearing loss is so gradual, often progressing over the course of many years, individuals are often confused as to why they're having difficulty catching what others are saying. "I hear in some settings but not others"; "I can hear some people easier than others". Sometimes, communication partners are confused by what they observe and may mistakenly think that the person to whom they are talking is not paying attention, or, may even be experiencing memory related issues, when, in fact, the individual just didn't catch everything that was said.

Hearing loss has often been regarded by many as a normal part of aging, without many serious consequences, and, one that most individuals can do little about. However, difficulty hearing basic questions, missing key parts of conversation, failure to catch important details can often lead to stress and anxiety. Individuals may go out less often to movies, plays, or even social gatherings just because they find it too hard to hear. Who wants to pay a lot of money to go to an event or to a social function when one is missing so much! Hearing loss can also place a strain on interpersonal and intimate relationships, not only affecting the hard of hearing individual but his or her significant others (The National Council on Aging, 1999; Dalton et al., 2003). In many cases, family members and friends often become so frustrated or even angry, that they socialize less with the individual with hearing loss. In turn, the psychosocial/ mental health consequences can lead to physiological consequences such as depression and increased hypertension (Crandell C, 1998; Dalton et al., 2003). Recent studies have also shown that for those in the workplace, hearing loss has been shown to impact significantly on earning power; that is, individuals with untreated hearing loss earn much less and have lower incomes in retirement than their normal hearing peers (Kochkin, 2005).

However, there is good news for seniors with hearing loss. Hearing aids have improved greatly in the past few years and almost anyone with a hearing loss can be successfully fit. Hearing aids are more discreet in size, can automatically adjust settings as a function of the listening environment, and, provide increased clarity and comfort even in the presence of much background noise. Hearing aids can now even be used with blue-tooth devices to allow one to hear more easily on the cell-phone (and hands-free), as well listen wirelessly to MP3 players and television. Hearing assistive devices such as telephone amplifiers or TV listeners are also very effective. Yet, research shows that only 20% of individuals with a hearing loss do anything to address their hearing loss (Popelka et al., 1998; Kochkin, 2007). One reason appears to be that a large percentage of individuals just don’t know how much they are missing.

One of the best ways to find out if you or someone you know may have a hearing loss is to get your hearing checked by a licensed Audiologist. Most hearing evaluations are covered by some form of insurance and take only about an hour's time. The audiologist will be able to tell you if a hearing loss is present (and, if so, its severity), identify your options, and help you make well informed decisions. With the development of digital (computerized) hearing aids, audiologists can now easily demonstrate the latest digital hearing aid technology. This allows individuals to determine if they really can hear better when they have hearing aids on (i.e., hearing is believing). And, make sure to bring a significant other to the appointment. Remember that hearing loss not only affects the one with the hearing loss but also one's significant others. This allows them to not only understand your hearing loss (if present) but to also learn what they can do to make communication flow more easily. And, if you are a child of an aging parent with a likely hearing loss, a hearing evaluation is an opportunity to help clarify whether a hearing loss is present, and, if so, learn of options that can help the aging parent enjoy the "golden" years . With so much that is now available to help individuals with hearing loss, why wait and suffer needlessly? Hear better and feel better.

Your answers to the following statements can help you determine whether you should have your hearing evaluated. Ten situations typically difficult for individuals with hearing loss are listed. Please check the boxes that apply to you.

If you answered sometimes or yes to three or more of these questions, a hearing loss is likely present and a hearing evaluation is recommended.

Crandell CC. (1998) Hearing aids: Their effects on functional health status. The Hearing Journal, 51(2), 22-30.

Dalton D, Cruickshanks K, Klein B, Klein R, Wiley T, Nondahl D. (2003) The impact of hearing loss on quality of life in older adults. Gerontologist, 43, 661-668.

Kochkin, S. (2005) Hearing loss and its impact on household income. Hearing Review. 12(10), 16-24.

Kochkin, S. (2007) MarkeTrak VII: Obstacles to adult non-user adoption of hearing aids. The Hearing Journal, 60(4), 27-43.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). (2010) Quick Statistics.

Popelka MM, Cruickshanks KJ, Wiley TL, Tweed TS, Klein BEK, Klein R. (1998) Low prevalence of hearing aid use among older adults with hearing loss: The epidemiology of hearing loss study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 46(9), 1075-1078.

About the Author 

Larry Medwetsky, Ph.D. Larry Medwetsky, Ph.D.

Larry Medwetsky, Ph.D. is Vice President of Clinical Services at the Rochester Hearing and Speech Center (RHSC). Dr. Medwetsky obtained his Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing Sciences from the City University New York-Graduate Center, and has been a practicing audiologist for over 30 years. He has published many articles/chapters and done many presentations locally as well as nationally on the topics of hearing loss, hearing technology, and processing related disorders. Dr. Medwetsky is also hard of hearing and has been wearing hearing aids since 13 years of age.

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The Rochester Healthnote Library consists of locally-authored articles either commissioned by Rochester Health or republished with the author's permission. The information provided in the Rochester Healthnote Library is for general informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice and treatment. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.

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