If you find yourself asking others to repeat themselves because your hearing isn't what it used to be, you aren't alone. Hearing loss affects about 20 percent of American adults; that's 48 million people. Moreover, by age 65, one out of three individuals has diminished hearing. Over half of Americans who are 75 or older have the health issue. And this particular problem doesn't just affect the senior population; an estimated 30 children per 1,000 have less than perfect hearing.
Though millions of adults suffer, only one out of five people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wears one. Moreover, 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high-frequency hearing loss because of exposure to loud sounds or noise at work or in leisure activities. Often the older you are the worse your hearing.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, sounds can be harmful when they are too loud, even for a brief time, or when they are both loud and long-lasting. People of all ages, including children, teens, young adults and older people, develop noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL. If you are a baby boomer who attended a lot of rock concerts in the '60s and '70s, chances are you are paying for that now.
NIHL can be prevented by wearing earplugs or preventive devices when involved in a loud activity -- such as using power tools or attending a very loud concert. If you are a grandparent, keep your grandchild safe by protecting their ears, and don't be afraid to remind parents to do the same thing. Most important, have your hearing tested.
Audiologist Sharon Green says, "I see patients every day who benefit enormously from treatment. Unfortunately, a large number of them have needlessly suffered by waiting too long to seek help."
Green says it's important to recognize the signs of hearing loss: inattentiveness; buzzing or ringing in the ears; failure to respond to spoken words; muffled hearing; or constant frustration in hearing speech or other sounds. Untreated hearing loss is tied to social isolation, depression, early exit from the workplace and a reduced quality of life. New research also has found a strong link between the degree of hearing loss and the risk of developing dementia.
To fit a hearing aid that is right for the patient, an audiologist must first determine the hearing lifestyle of the patient. Someone who lives with a lot of background noise needs different technology than someone who lives a very quiet lifestyle.
Modern hearing aids are much improved over those that your parents might have worn. Audiologists who have been practicing for a few decades have witnessed a dramatic change in the delivery of hearing care services.
Remember, however, that hearing aids are designed to aid a person's hearing. They can't restore human hearing, nor will they stop the progress of hearing loss. Moreover, it does take time to learn to live with a hearing aid. A dedicated professional who is willing to make adjustments to the hearing device can speed up the process.
"I suggest people familiarize themselves with the signs (of hearing loss) and seek a hearing assessment from an audiologist if they have a question about their hearing or a loved one's hearing," Green says. "Treatment is often easier and more effective than people think."