Because hearing loss is gradual, it often goes unnoticed or, more importantly, undiagnosed. The average person waits 10 to 14 years before seeking hearing loss help. It is a bloodless, painless condition and “everyone mumbles.” The difficulties in communicating are usually seen as the fault of everyone but the person with the hearing loss. Then out of the blue, something occurs. Maybe the spouse has had enough or the person with the loss embarrasses him or herself out in public. Then they come to see me. Remember that it has taken an average of 10 years to get them through my door. No one says, “Oh goodie, I’m getting hearing aids.” They are still thinking fast and furiously for any excuse to leave the hearing clinic empty-handed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one-fourth of adults between the ages of 20 and 69 have a hearing loss because of noise, and one-half of those suffered the damage outside of the workplace. Think: concerts and lawn equipment. Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) effects approximately one in three people in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 74 and nearly half of those over 75.
I mainly see two types of hearing losses:
The first type has good hearing in the lower frequencies with a sharp decrease in the high frequencies. A person with this type of loss can hear at normal volume, but can’t understand all that is being said. S/he can’t hear consonant sounds, k, t, f, s, ch, sh, th, or the beginning and ending of many words. This is referred to as “hidden hearing loss.”
The second type of hearing loss is poor hearing in the low frequencies and even worse in the highs. A person with this type of loss needs volume and clarity. S/he has a much harder time faking it. They speak too loudly, their TV volume makes everyone crazy, and going to a restaurant is no fun.
Regardless of the type of hearing loss, waiting 10 to 14 years to seek hearing loss help is a bad idea. Adults with untreated hearing loss experience a 30 to 40 percent decrease in cognitive abilities, and therefore they are more likely to develop dementia. Speech understanding declines, balance is effected, and they are 30 percent more likely to fall. Incidences of depression are significantly higher, and lifespan is shorter.
Hearing aids can be expensive. They are infinitely more sophisticated than their predecessors of just five years ago. Almost every type of engineer known to man is involved in their development. However, I always tell my clients that if they want to hear, I will find them hearing aids in almost any price range. But, they have to want them. I can’t put in the patience and commitment required to adjust to hearing new sounds, nor can their family members.
The good news:
Hearing what you have been missing can be very emotional, and I have seen many different reactions to the hearing loss help I provide my patients. I could tell stories all day long (and if you ask my family, they will say that I do!). However, I will end with two statements: The transformations that I see are remarkable. And, I get a lot of hugs.