SOUND ADVICE, BUYER BEWARE
About one third of us between 65-75 years of age have a hearing loss. The stats rise to over half of people over 75.
Some losses occur as side effects of aspirin, antibiotics, loud music and repeated exposure to noise. Much hearing loss is caused by various health conditions, hereditary factors and just old age. The blood supply to the ear may be compromised by heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or other circulatory problems.
Usually you complain someone is mumbling or has slurred speech. High-pitched words become more difficult to distinguish especially with background noise. Women’s voices seem less clear than means voices. Loud noises become more disturbing. A roaring, ringing, or hissing sound may occur in one or both ears.
First the high pitches go. The “s” and “th” become harder to tell apart. Later the low pitches go. Since you can’t reverse this loss, how you compensate for this loss as much as possible? You start reading lips, watching peoples mouths, and their body language. All give you a cue to understand what is said.
Most people don’t use the many hearing options that would help them. Hearing aids, telephone amplifiers and medical evaluation all can be beneficial.
Many people are not diagnosed, are under treated or just embarrassed because of their hearing loss. They see a social stigma with wearing a hearing aid. Many are just afraid to admit it or don’t know about all the devices available today to improve hearing. Many will also tell you they have friends who bought a hearing aid and it now sits in their dresser drawer.
It is also risky to lose or damage a high priced investment. It is also inconvenient to get a hearing aid in the customary way. There are multiple visits, hearing aid evaluations, and follow up visits to address feedback and comfort issues with hearing aid dispensers. Everyone has heard about the history of unethical business practices with some companies in the past.
How bad does your hearing have go get before you do something about it? Before you try one on for size, get a medical evaluation and be referred to a reputable hearing aid dispenser for a proper fit.
HOW DO YOU HEAR?
You are born with a set of sensory cells and you start losing them at about 18 years of age. Yet this is rarely notice until well over the age of 50. The loss affects both ears equally by these gradual changes in the inner ear. There is less response to sound waves. It is harder to hear car horns, alarms, doorbells, and cell phones. You find it harder to respond to warnings, doctor’s advice. You adjust over time by standing closer to someone speaking or turn up to TV not to miss something. You sit in the front pew in church to hear a sermon.
You hear with your brain as well as your ears. A vibration like the sound of rain or thunder is picked up by the ears and read by the brain.
Sound first hits the eardrum, which is in the middle ear. This makes the eardrum vibrate. The vibrations are amplified along three tiny connected bones called the hammer, anvil and stirrup. They pass the sound waves to the inner ear cochlea, which is shaped like a snail shell and lined with tiny hairs.
Its like the telephone rang. The brain interprets the pitches or frequencies which give sounds their distinctive qualities. The brain uses the source, direction and loudness of sounds to decipher messages.
IS A HEARING AID YOUR ANSWER?
Hearing aids have different electronic characteristics that can help your hearing loss. If you have only high frequency loss, simple amplification will make the mumbles speech sound louder. You need an aid that selectively amplifies the high frequencies.
Hearing is like listening to a radio. You can turn the volume up or down. When you increase the volume, you hear more clearly. If the station is not tuned in clearly there will be no help in turning up the volume.
Many hearing aids use digital sound processing with multiple frequency channels to make the amplification more precise. An older person might find it hard to manage the small complex components. If you cant stand loud sounds you might need special electronic circuitry that limits the maximum volume of sound so it is tolerable.
KINDS OF HEARING AIDS
Behind-the-ear hearing aids carry sound through a custom ear mold. They are behind the ear or attached to eyeglasses In-the-ear devices fit in the outer ear. The wires are in the device and no wires are visible. In-the-ear-canal devices are almost impossible to see, but are hard to use with telephones.
The FDA allows you to be fitted for hearing aids without a medical exam, but it is not in your best interest. You might just have a wax buildup or something more serious, as a tumor. You can buy one on the Internet. Unfortunately there is rehabilitation with purchasing a hearing aid. Prices vary, depending on the technology.
Cell phones all cause some interference. The behind the ear devices have more interference than the in the ear devices. The FCC has mandated cell phone manufactures make digital wireless phones compatible with hearing aids by 2010.
The louder the noise, the greater your risk of hearing loss. Noise levels of 110 decibels for more than one minute can cause a hearing loss. Chain saws, wood shops carpentry, snowmobiles and firecrackers all fall in this level. City traffic and cutting the lawn is 80 decibels. Normal conversation is 60 decibels. Rock concerts are off the wall. Use earplugs when around loud noises.
Sorting all this out can pose a problem. If a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Hearing aids can be expensive. So get fitted by a reputable seller who will service your aid. Get a referral from your doctor or friends who were happy with the service they got.
Try to get someone close to home so your visits are convenient. Technology is moving fast, so at least learn how to read lips and get in the face of your mumbling friends.
Visit www.drneedles.com for more medical controversial subjects. Your comments are always appreciated.