Talking about hearing loss is never easy. There is a lot of emotion attached to our ability and inability to communicate. Nobody likes to be told that they are misunderstanding or missing conversation. Some of my patients have expressed feeling “betrayed” by their bodies. They associate hearing loss with “getting old”.
In many cases, hearing loss is gradual. It is common for people to modify their listening habits or compensate for hearing loss by avoiding particular situations. These changes are so gradual that the person with hearing loss may truly have no idea that they are being affected. A person with hearing loss is often the last person to know they have hearing loss. They just don’t realize that they have missed something.
To start a conversation about hearing loss, it is often helpful to talk about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We exercise to stay physically fit. We take medication to improve our health. Treating hearing loss is the best way to keep our brains engaged and reduce cognitive strain. We treat our hearing loss like we treat our vision loss, tooth loss, and other medical conditions. Be reassuring and supportive. Let your mother know that she is not alone with her hearing loss. Hearing loss affects over 32 million Americans, across all age groups.
Another way to start a conversation about hearing loss is to discuss the benefits of Baseline Testing. Getting a test before there is significant hearing loss is helpful for monitoring overall wellness. Baseline testing can be used as a comparison to show the progression of loss over the years, ototoxic effects of medication, the damage being caused by noise exposure, help identify the onset of many other serious health issues like heart disease, diabetes, Meniere’s Disease, acoustic tumors, and other hearing or balance disorders. Baseline testing is a great idea for everyone at age 50. Even if you’re not 50, it may be helpful to suggest you both get a baseline evaluation. It’s quick, easy, and painless (and good for your healthy lifestyle as well).
What happens if my mother has hearing loss?
Your audiologist will determine if your mother’s hearing loss needs medical treatment. If yes, then a letter will be sent to her primary care physician with a description of the medical condition. If there is no medical concern, your audiologist will assess the impact of the hearing loss on your mother and those around her. It is important for the family to express their concerns and frustrations. If hearing aids are appropriate, your audiologist will talk about the features and styles appropriate for her loss, lifestyle, budget, and expectations.
What happens if mom won’t wear hearing aids?
Despite the presence of hearing loss, despite your desire to get your mother help and despite the audiologist’s recommendation, it is ultimately your mother’s decision to utilize hearing aids or not. If she is not emotionally ready to put the hearing aids in and use them, she will not be successful. She will likely find the experience frustrating and make her unwilling to try hearing aids again at a later date.
At AVA hearing Center we offer an opportunity for patients to use a special FLEX trial hearing aid that would allow your mom to try amplification before she invests in her own hearing aids. This opportunity will let her experience the benefits of hearing aids and give her a good idea of what to expect when she gets her own hearing aids. This trial helps limit the fear of purchasing hearing aids that will end up in her dresser drawer. If your audiologist doesn’t offer a Flex Trial, ask about their trial period and return policy.
If your mother is not emotionally ready for hearing aids, your audiologist will discuss ways to maximize her listening skills and recognize areas where she will need to use different communication techniques. These compensatory listening techniques may not solve her communication problems but it may reduce some of her frustration, and yours.
Your audiologist may also suggest the use of an Aural Rehabilitation program to increase the brain’s ability to LISTEN. There is an online Aural Rehabilitation program available at laceauditorytraining.com as well as a home DVD exercise called LACE. There are also easy-to-follow, read-out-loud exercises that can be used. These exercises may be used with or without hearing aids and are designed to increase the brain’s ability to identify, process and focus on speech information.
Most people don’t like the idea of wearing hearing aids… or glasses, or diabetic pumps, etc. But most people find that their hearing aids are beneficial and that the positives by far outweigh the negatives. A 2019 consumer study found that 83% of hearing aid users report that they are “highly satisfied or “mostly satisfied” with their hearing aids. Digital technology has improved hearing aid capabilities to include speech enhancement, noise reduction, directional microphones, direct audio input (t-coil), Bluetooth conductivity, feedback reduction, and much more. They come in many style choices and if your mother is a little adventurous, they come in many fun colors.
Hearing aids are not a cure, however. They cannot repair the nerve damage in the ears or fully restore the brain’s ability to process speech at a rate we had when we were teenagers. It is important to have reasonable expectations. It is also very important that your mother PRACTICE listening. Her brain needs to learn how to recognize, filter, and use the information provided by the hearing aids, information that may have been missing for a long time. You and your mother should be aware of hearing aid features as well as the benefits and limitations of those features. Your audiologist will instruct your mother on how to optimize her listening environments and how to acclimate to her new hearing capabilities.
Untreated hearing loss leads to:
Untreated hearing loss has been identified as the #1 preventable contributor to dementia. Over time, as the brain receives less and less auditory input, the brain begins to take resources from the memory portion of the brain to try to fill in missing parts to the conversation. This may be why people with untreated hearing loss have a 34% greater incidence of dementia as compared to people with normal hearing and those who utilize hearing aids.