According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, age-related hearing loss affects about 25% of people aged 65 – 74, and 50% of ages 75 and older. Overall, more males seem to be impacted.
Also, by middle age, many men will have hearing nerve damage from long exposure to noises, such as music, power tools, guns and some career choices (like construction, manufacturing, or military service) according to Dr. Steven Rauch, an otologist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear.
The easiest solution to most hearing loss is to wear a hearing aid and the first step is recognizing that there is a problem.
So, when are hearing aids recommended?
While some people can get by without a hearing aid, what needs to be considered is the potential impact hearing loss has on their life, relationships, and even cognitive skills. Left untreated, hearing loss is associated with higher risks for social isolation, depression, and reduced mental and physical activity.
It’s estimated that, by age 65, about one-third of men need hearing aids, however, only half of them wear them.
The best way to determine whether you need a hearing aid is to get your hearing checked by a certified audiologist. Hearing tests measure how loud a sound needs to be, so you can hear it and how clearly you hear it.
If you have a normal hearing you can hear sounds less than 25 decibels (dB) and if the softest sounds you can hear are 30 dB or louder, you may be missing a significant amount of what is being said, and will probably benefit from a hearing aid.
It’s important to note that hearing aids are only amplifiers. “They are an excellent remedy for patients with a loudness problem, but can’t help with clarity,” says Dr. Rauch.
If you have a clarity problem like trouble understanding speech in a noisy environment, there are other methods that may help improve communication. For example, when speaking with someone, sit face-to-face and reduce background noise, like the TV, or distractions, like reading the paper. Be fully focused and engaged.
“Ask the person not to shout, but to speak more slowly and more clearly in order to hyper-enunciate words,” says Dr. Rauch.
Age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss tend to affect both ears equally. If hearing loss occurs in one ear but not the other, it could be a result of a stroke, infection, or tumor and requires further medical evaluation, says Dr. Rauch.
People with single-sided hearing loss, or hearing loss that is different in each ear, are less likely to benefit from wearing a hearing aid just in the bad ear compared with both ears. “These people seem to have trouble fusing the electronic sound of a hearing aid with the normal sound in the opposite ear,” says Dr. Rauch.
After you get fitted for a hearing aid it often takes times to adjust. “If you’ve had a gradual progressive hearing loss over a period of years, your brain is out of practice processing and filtering the full spectrum of normal sounds, so it needs time to adapt,” says Dr. Rauch.
Wear your hearing aids for about an hour daily to start and then gradually increase your time over a few weeks. You don’t have to wear them all the time, either—you can put them in only when you need to. But the more you use them, the quicker you will adjust.
Also, be aware that not everyone finds hearing aids comfortable. “They make everything louder—voices, noises, sounds—and some people may find it overwhelming in places with a lot of stimuli, like restaurants and crowds,” says Dr. Rauch. “They are usually more helpful in quieter environments.”
The results of your hearing test will help your audiologist recommend the right kind of hearing aid, but here are some other factors to know about your purchase:
- If you have severe hearing loss, you may need a larger hearing aid.
- A single aid can cost from $3,000 to $4,000, although most vendors offer a discount for
- the second one.
- Medicare and many other insurance plans don’t cover hearing aids, but the Veterans Health Administration might. (Check with your provider.)
- Some state laws require that you can return hearing aids after 30 days if you don’t like them (you only pay a small reprocessing fee).
- Hearing aids last about five years.
- Avoid any marketing hype and focus on comfort, ease of use, cost, and how well it works for you.
- Ask your friends who are satisfied with their aids and their hearing aid vendor for a recommendation.
For many men, hearing aids can be a life-changer—for them and the people around them as well. “Instead of worrying about ‘looking old,’ realize that hearing aids are a gift for you, your wife, your friends, and everyone else you interact with,” says Dr. Rauch. “They make everyone’s lives better.”
You can find additional advice on diagnosing and treating hearing loss, as well as guidance on choosing a hearing aid, in Hearing Loss, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School, available for purchase at www.health.harvard.edu/hl.
A study in the Jan. 27, 2016, American Journal of Audiology found a link between use of hearing aids and improved brain function in people with hearing loss.
The study examined people with hearing loss who had never used hearing aids. They were tested to measure their working memory (the ability to process information) and selective attention. The subjects then wore hearing aids for an average of eight hours a day for six months. Afterward, test results for the group showed that working memory had improved by 14% and selective attention by 20%.
The connection, according to the researchers, is that hearing loss can interfere with cognitive abilities because so much brain effort is put toward understanding speech.
If you’re experiencing hearing loss and considering getting a hearing aid, you may be overwhelmed with concerns about which device to get, how it will look, and maybe even whether it will really help.
At Resonance Audiology, we have often been asked: “How do I know if I am choosing the right hearing aid for me?”
- The main thing to consider as you evaluate your options is the nature of your hearing loss, its cause, and its severity. A hearing aid cannot restore normal hearing, however, the right device for your hearing loss can improve your hearing by amplifying soft sounds, helping you hear sounds that you’ve had trouble hearing. Your audiologist or hearing aid doctor will be able to make recommendations based on the results of your hearing tests.
- If you use wireless electronic devices like cell phones, music players, or laptops, you may want a hearing aid that is compatible with those wireless devices.
- For a severe hearing loss, one of the larger hearing aids may be the best option.
If you want to be able to reduce some types of background noise and enhance the sound frequencies you have the most trouble hearing, you may need to look at the bigger sizes of hearing aids. Also, if you are disposed to an excessive earwax buildup or ear infections, it’s good to know that small hearing aids are easily damaged by earwax or draining ear fluid and may not be the best option for you.
- If you suffer from tinnitus in addition to hearing loss, make sure you ask for a hearing aid that can produce tinnitus-masking noises. With tinnitus masking feature (not available from all brands) the ringing will subside and you will be able to hear sounds more clearly.
- Consider your dexterity – if you have arthritis or another condition or injury that may make it difficult to insert and remove certain types of hearing aids, look at hearing devices that are easier to handle.
- Hearing aids can range in price from about $1,200 to more than $6,000 for each device, depending on size and the level of technology. Unfortunately, most insurance providers do not cover the cost, and the price tag often ends up being a barrier to getting the help and relief your need. But it doesn’t have to be – there are options for hearing aid funding, including low-interest loans, credit cards and same-as-cash financing plans for medical devices.
- Hearing aid technology is constantly advancing, so be sure to check out the latest features, as many will allow you to do things that weren’t possible years ago. For instance, now you can opt for hearing aids with remotes that allow you to quickly change programs, adjust the volume and even serve as a Bluetooth streaming device; waterproof devices, data logging aids, etc.
A very important consideration is that if you have hearing loss, you may actually be at greater risk of further damage to your remaining hearing, so prevention and early intervention is key.
And if you are concerned about how you’ll look wearing a hearing aid, rest assured that modern hearing aids are not just effective, they are also designed to be much more discreet, some being virtually invisible. Your audiologist can help narrow the choices to what will best suit your hearing needs, your appearance, and your budget.
Expert audiologists at Resonance Audiology & Hearing Aid Center, LLC are here to help with hearing tests and hearing aid options to best fit someone’s particular needs.
Call us at 717.925.6112 today – Resonance Audiology & Hearing Aid Center in Lancaster PA, the best place to buy hearing aid devices and find treatment solutions for you or your loved one!