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Hear! Hear! Hearing loss in seniors a growing health care challenge

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by Leslie Holden, a licensed and certified hearing instrument practitioner in Manitoba and president of the Canadian Hearing Instrument Practitioners Society (CHIPS) ---

Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions affecting Canadians over the age of 65, and the number of older Canadians with hearing loss is growing fast.

The public perception is that hearing loss is a relatively inconsequential part of aging, but if it is left untreated it can be serious and can negatively impact your quality of life. Because of the communication difficulties it creates, hearing loss can lead to social withdrawal or isolation and even depression. Your family, friends and colleagues may think you are confused, uninterested or difficult, when the problem may simply be your hearing.

Additionally, recent findings suggest that hearing loss may play a much more important role in overall health — such as in age-related cognitive decline and dementia — than previously thought. This makes sense: the last thing someone on the verge of cognitive decline needs is social isolation and loneliness. He or she will certainly benefit from the increased social interaction that results from hearing better!

Despite their importance, the ears do not get the attention they deserve in the education of health care providers and in Canada’s national health insurance program (treatment of hearing loss is excluded). Accessing hearing health care can therefore be challenging, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.

Signs of hearing loss:

•      difficulty hearing other people clearly or misunderstanding what they say, especially in group situations or crowded rooms

•      difficulty keeping up with conversations when talking to a group of people or having to ask people to speak up or repeat themselves

•      listening to music or watching television with the volume higher than other people need

•      difficulty hearing a ringing telephone

•      inability to distinguish which direction noise is coming from

•      difficulty hearing the speaker in lectures, work-related meetings, religious services or social gatherings

•      having to lean towards others to hear better

•      feeling stressed or fatigued from having to concentrate while listening

Is this you?

Hearing loss is sometimes sudden, but more often it is gradual and you may not notice it at first. Be aware of the early signs, and act right away!

Seek care if you have to really concentrate on what is being said in a social setting. Do you pay more attention to people’s lip movements and facial expressions to better understand what you can’t hear? You may be finding the high frequency of soft sounds increasingly difficult to hear. You may also be having difficulty with hard consonants such as s, f and th. This can make understanding speech in settings with background noise very challenging.

The hearing test

You may not realize how easy it is to get a hearing evaluation by a hearing instrument practitioner or how straightforward and quick a hearing evaluation can be. In fact, most hearing instrument practitioners provide free basic hearing (health care) screenings.

The hearing evaluation has these basic components:

  • You’ll answer questions about your hearing and general health.
  • You’ll be given a series of sound prompts that will be played through specially designed headphones while you are seated in a glassed soundproof booth. The Hearing Instrument Practitioner will communicate with you through the headphones to determine if you are hearing different types of sounds and words at different volumes within a range of soundscapes.

If the hearing care professional finds that you do have a hearing loss and recommends hearing aids, there is absolutely no need to make a decision right away. Think about it; discuss it with your family doctor. In some cases, the hearing instrument practitioner may recommend that you see your family doctor and an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Hearing aids can help

Today’s state-of-the-art, high-performance hearing aids are sophisticated, sleek and effective electronic instruments that help you stay connected to the important sounds, activities and people in your life.

There are different kinds of hearing aids with unique features and looks to suit your specific type of hearing loss, listening environments, lifestyle and budget. Virtually invisible, hearing aids are digital and wireless compatible, and they can connect directly to your smartphone, MP3 player or television, at volumes just right for you. They automatically adjust to all kinds of soundscapes, allowing you to hear from all directions, in all sorts of sound environments, and some are even splash proof.

Be hear smart. Here’s how:

Be aware of the early signs: If you have difficulty hearing other people clearly or misunderstand what they say, especially in group situations; if you have constant ringing in your ears; if you are hypersensitive to loud sounds; if you have lost the ability to hear certain sounds; or if you are unable to distinguish which direction noise is coming from, it is possible something is not right.

Act right away: Don’t put off getting care because you think hearing loss is a minor inconvenience — something you can ignore or deal with by simply increasing the volume on your television or asking people to repeat themselves.

Always use ear protection: Use ear muffs or ear plugs to protect yourself from noisy environments and exposure to continuous, loud noises.

Make “hearing” part of your health care: Hearing health is important throughout your life, and you should ensure that it is checked on a regular basis, say every other year. Discuss your hearing with your family doctor and determine if any further intervention is necessary.

During the May 2017 Hearing Awareness Month let’s remind ourselves that the ability to hear is a gift: a sensory experience that must be valued and protected.