Hearing loss: Millions may be suffering needlessly
Hearing aids come in many different styles and sizes, with a wide range of features. (Fotolia.com / September 5, 2012)
Researchers found that from 1999 to 2006, only 14 percent of adults 50 and older who needed a hearing aid actually used one.
"There's a stigma attached to wearing hearing aids, suggesting one is aging," says Dr. Robert Schreiber, a geriatrician and instructor at Harvard Medical School. "Accepting this fact is often difficult for some people."
CONSEQUENCES OF HEARING LOSS
But hearing loss is a fact for 10 percent of people ages 65 to 75, and 25 percent of people age 75 and older, according to Dr. Schreiber.
We are able to hear conversation, music, or an airplane overhead because sound waves cause tiny bones in the ear to move and stimulate nerve endings. Hearing loss is often caused by conductive hearing problems (affecting the tiny bones) or by sensorineural hearing loss that is the result of nerve damage.
A common type of sensorineural hearing loss is a progressive inability in both ears to hear high frequencies. It often affects the ability to hear speech in a noisy environment, or high-pitched sounds and voices.
All hearing loss can have serious consequences. When driving or walking across busy streets, for example, it can be dangerous. More subtle but important problems also can result from uncorrected hearing loss.
"You may not be able to hear conversations, or important directions or reminders. That can lead to family discord, social isolation, and loss of self esteem," says Dr. Schreiber.
GET HELP WITH A PHYSICAL EXAM
If there is hearing loss in both ears, you may be a candidate for a hearing aid. The devices come in different styles and sizes, with a wide range of features. Some have digital or analog features. Some are programmable. Analog devices are less expensive than digital hearing aids and provide acceptable quality for many people. Newer digital devices have better sound, are smaller, and are more easily customized.
Hearing aid costs range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Some insurance plans pay for the devices. Medicare generally does not. The audiologist who examines your hearing can help you find an option for your budget.
While hearing aids do not restore hearing to normal, they usually improve hearing by half of the loss, says Dr. Schreiber. Restoring even that can profoundly impact your quality of life. - Harvard Health Letter