According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated one-third of the people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 75 and close to one-half of those older than 75 have some degree of hearing loss. This gradual and common form of hearing loss is called presbycusis. Exposure to loud noises, viral infections, some medications, chemotherapy and radiation, heredity, head and inner ear trauma, and ruptured eardrums can contribute to hearing loss.
Hearing loss is generally not reversible. High fevers, large doses of aspirin or anti-malarial drugs can cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears, often temporary) and changes to the inner ear. Common symptoms of hearing loss include difficulty with comprehension, needing high volume on the TV, not hearing conversations on the telephone, confusing words, and having difficulty with select pitches and sounds. If there is pain, bleeding, dizziness, sudden or fluctuating hearing loss, or some form of head trauma, medical attention should be sought immediately.
Hearing loss and ensuing problems may not be the same for everyone. There are three primary types of hearing loss:
--Conductive hearing loss involves volume rather than the ability to understanding.
--Sensorineural hearing loss affects understanding ability.
--Mixed hearing loss is a combination of the two.
Untreated hearing loss may lead to depression as well as isolation and the inability to handle everyday functions, including earning potential. Advances in hearing aid technology can help bring back enjoyment and quality of life.
Most people ignore or try to hide hearing-loss symptoms, thinking erroneously that it's something to be embarrassed about. Family members and friends who show concern and point out the suspected hearing problems are often greeted with anger and denial. Demands that the person go for a hearing test will often be ignored, especially if they seem to be self-centered (complaint about the noise level of the TV). Appealing to emotions may have a much more positive effect. Try a call for action, such as reminding Grandma that she missed little Johnny's one stage line to emphasize her need (not yours) to seek treatment.
Depending on the results of hearing tests, the doctor may remove wax buildup, put in a cochlear implant (to replace a damaged part of the ear) or recommend a hearing aid. A hearing aid can help by making sounds stronger and easier to hear. Available hearing aid styles include those that are completely in the canal and nearly invisible, in the ear and visible or behind the ear. Today's hearing aids may feature Bluetooth interfaces, digital noise reduction and instruments that learn based on changes made by the wearer. You may need to try more than one device to find one that works well for you.
AARP offers these tips when choosing a hearing aid:
--Bring along a friend to help make sure you are hearing and understanding the options offered.
--Know your provider's skills and reputation. Audiologists hold degrees in audiology.
--Know what you want from the hearing aid -- whether you want it for normal conversation, watching TV, playing in the outdoors, etc.
-- Have your hearing tested so that the audiologist or hearing aid specialist knows what kind of hearing loss you have.
--Try before you buy. The provider should be able to give you a real demonstration of the device.
--Ask about add-ons. Every add-on comes with a price, so choose only what you will realistically need.
--After you buy your hearing aid, don't leave the office without checking whether it fits. And does it do what you want it to do?
--Get it in writing. Get a signed copy of a contract with the model and make of hearing aid, the price, any nonrefundable fees, the warranty and a specified trial period.
--Ask your audiologist about aural education and rehabilitation. Some auditory training can be done at home with a personal computer or through group sessions.
--The average hearing aid can cost between $1,200 and $3,700, and is usually not covered by Medicare or insurance companies. Don't be afraid to negotiate.