So, You Have Been Told You Need a Hearing Aid
Information regarding your hearing and the importance your hearing has for successful aging
By David Astrachan MD
“My hearing is fine, I hear what I want to hear, people need to speak up, my kids mumble”
Hearing loss usually occurs over a long period of time and the brain is very good at getting used to something that happens very slowly. If you had normal hearing and went to bed one night and woke up with the hearing that you have now you would feel as if you had gone partially deaf. People who loose their hearing suddenly are extremely uncomfortable and seek care right away.
Imagine if we’re talking about your vision and 15 years ago you went to live in a cave illuminated by a 150 watt lightbulb. Now imagine if every day that lightbulb intensity was slowly turned down, so slowly you wouldn’t notice it, to the point where it now is a 20 watt bulb. You would still feel as if you could “see“, however, you would be missing the crispness and clarity in your vision, not seeing the vibrancy and the intensity of things around you that you once did with the 150 watt light. That is the same thing that happens with your ears over time and although you can “hear“ you are missing the clarity and crispness of sound.
OK, sometimes it is hard for me to understand what people are saying, what about that?
The part of your brain that connects to your ear relies on good hearing to keep it working in perfect shape. If you don’t hear well that part of your brain that takes in the sounds and understands them as words gets weaker. When we test your hearing we not only test your ability to hear beeps and tones, but we test your ability to understand words. Studies have shown that long-term hearing loss leads to decreased brain function and that by maintaining good hearing you do not lose your ability to understand words. The good news is that early amplification, before losing speech understanding, protects the brain from losing function. Even if you have lost speech understanding, wearing hearing aids all day, every day, can improve speech understanding and brain function. This is especially important as the most commonly associated condition with dementia is hearing loss. On average it takes about seven years from the onset of hearing loss to the point where the brain has difficulty understanding speech. We now know that untreated hearing loss is a cause of dementia.
I know lots of people who hate their hearing aids and they are nothing but trouble
Hearing aids are not like glasses, you can’t just put them on and expect to hear and understand speech “normally”. What you experience now as “normal” people with truly normal hearing would experience as partial deafness. Hearing is a function of the ear and understanding is a function of the brain. Your brain actually has to change and get used to the hearing with your hearing aids which is “normal hearing“ in order for you to feel comfortable. That requires you to wear the hearing aids all day every day and, as best possible, expose yourself to music, speech and conversations.
Yeah, but hearing aids are so expensive, the batteries are such a pain and I don’t want them showing – I don’t want to look old
Hearing aids are not cheap, that is true. Increasingly insurance companies are offering hearing aid benefits to cover or partially cover the devices. Modern hearing aids are computers and sound processor’s packed into a tiny space which is costly. Devices will last for many years and the benefits that they give make the cost over time well worth it. Devices come in a variety of styles and cost depending upon multiple factors. Modern hearing aids have rechargeable batteries that make them easier to use. They also can be connected to your phone making them easier to adjust in a variety of different listening situations. As far as their appearance and concerns about looking old, so many people now wear devices in their ears that the stigma is no longer applicable. And nothing makes you seem older than not hearing what people are saying or asking people to repeat themselves. Even worse is getting to the point where you’re with family and friends and they’re talking, you don’t understand what they’re saying and you nod your head as if you do, pretending that you are following the conversation.