December 23, 2019

‘What Did You Say?’ How Getting Help for Hearing Loss Can Boost Your Quality of Life

The benefits of a hearing device outweigh the perceived challenges

Profile of an elder man wearing an in-the-ear hearing aid

Hearing loss is invisible. You may not even realize you’re having difficulty keeping up with conversations.

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But if you or a loved one has noticed that you might be experiencing hearing loss, don’t wait to get help. Addressing hearing problems can help you feel more confident and connected to the people in your life.

“There are many benefits to addressing hearing loss,” says audiologist Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, PhD. “Hearing aids can help you maintain and even enrich relationships with friends and family members.”

Hearing problems impact your quality of life

“If you’re experiencing hearing loss, you probably expend a lot of energy to stay connected,” Dr. Sydlowski says. “You have to think about how you position yourself or who you sit next to. You have to focus intensely so you don’t miss key parts of a conversation.”

That effort may cause you to skip activities you used to love because they’re no longer enjoyable. And avoiding church or turning down outings with friends — things you once valued — can lead to social isolation or even depression.

Need clarity? Get a hearing test

While hearing loss can occur suddenly, it typically happens gradually as you age. At first, you might assume people around you are mumbling more. “Hearing loss isn’t like vision loss where it’s obvious things are blurry,” says Dr. Sydlowski.

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Often, others notice your hearing loss before you do, when they start needing to repeat what they say or notice that you misheard them. Dr. Sydlowski encourages you to get a hearing test with an audiologist as soon as you or a loved one notices hearing loss symptoms. It’s easier to acclimate to hearing technology when you start using it earlier.

“The transition to a hearing aid is easier when hearing loss is milder,” she explains. “It’s less effort for your brain to get used to the different sound quality.”

Break through hearing loss barriers

Many times, people know they have hearing loss but choose not to get help. Barriers that prevent people from taking action may include:

  1. Stigma: You fear that people will judge you for wearing a hearing aid. “We need to get rid of these stigmas,” Dr. Sydlowski says. “Today, people always have an earbud in one or both ears, so I hope that will lessen the hearing aid stigma.”
  2. Discomfort: You might assume that a hearing aid won’t be comfortable. However, Dr. Sydlowski says comfort is rarely an issue.
  3. Cost: Hearing aids aren’t covered at all by Medicare, and although most private insurance plans don’t cover them in full, more plans are now at least partially covering hearing aids. But cost should not be a barrier, Dr. Sydlowski says. There is technology available at a variety of price points. Your audiologist can help you find an option that will be best for your hearing and for your finances. The right option may include an over-the-counter hearing aid, which is expected to be available in 2020.
  4. Hoop-jumping: Hearing screenings aren’t part of most primary care visits. You may need a referral for an audiologist. For many people, the extra time and expense are enough to keep them home. “However, most insurers don’t require a physician referral, with the exception of Medicare” Dr. Sydlowski says. “And the audiology community is pushing to make hearing care an essential part of health maintenance.”

You can move past these barriers by acknowledging that getting help for hearing loss isn’t beneficial only for you. “The people who care about you want to have good conversations,” Dr. Sydlowski says. “When you can’t fully participate, it affects the quality of your relationships.”

Hearing helpers exist for every level of hearing loss

There is a spectrum of hearing loss that runs from mild to profound. Audiologists have many options to help improve your quality of life.

For most people, hearing aids are the best option. They aren’t designed to restore normal hearing but rather to help enhance your hearing in different environments. Over time, if your hearing decreases, your hearing aid may become less effective and an implantable device like a cochlear implant may be a better option.

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“Audiologists measure if your hearing aid is putting out the right amplification,” says Dr. Sydlowski. “We can measure how well you understand speech with your hearing aid to determine if there’s something better you could be using.”

She adds that merely having a device isn’t enough — it has to be the right device and programmed correctly.

“Hearing loss is very common, but that doesn’t make it acceptable,” Dr. Sydlowski says. “Take action because the benefits far outweigh the perceived challenges.”

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