May is Better Hearing Month, a time for us to think about whether our hearing, and that of our friends and family members, is as sharp as in the past, and a time to learn about hearing loss.
Prevalence and Health Impact of Hearing Loss
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss.
Just as the pandemic has impacted our ability to interact with friends and family, hearing loss has often been associated with a greater risk of social isolation, loneliness, depression, and dementia. Hearing loss can be mistaken for dementia due to the similarity of some symptoms.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is caused by numerous factors, including ear infections, certain medications, deterioration related to aging, and excessive exposure to loud noise, including loud sounds from musical instruments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives examples of the length of time before the noise produced by lawnmowers, motorcycles, sporting events, personal listening devices, shouting in the ear, and other sounds can cause hearing damage.
The National Institutes of Health’s Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders recommends protecting your ears from damage by avoiding exposure to loud sounds, moving away from noise or turning down the volume. When these options aren’t possible, hearing protectors—earplugs or protective earmuffs—can help.
Buying Hearing Aids
Hearing aids help most persons with hearing loss hear better. Before making an appointment to discuss the purchase of hearing aids, it is helpful to gather information. The Hearing Loss Association of America—Washington State (HLAA-WA) offers a useful online brochure entitled “Buying Hearing Aids in Washington (What to Expect).” The HLAA-WA website also includes information on financial help for buying hearing aids and answers many frequently asked questions. HLAA-WA members are happy to answer your questions about hearing loss.
Before buying hearing aids, learn about both telecoil and Bluetooth, two optional technologies. Telecoils, available at little or no extra cost, enable hearing aids to connect with compatible phones as well as to assisted listening systems. Telecoils are able to connect—without an intermediary device—to assisted listening systems known as “hearing loops.” Bluetooth can help your hearing aids connect with a variety of electronic devices, including cell phones, tablets, and television.
Neither telecoil nor Bluetooth capability can be inserted in your hearing aids after purchase. Make sure that the hearing aids you purchase will work with your cell phone AND that any phone you buy will work with your hearing aids.
Be aware that inexpensive, over-the-counter hearing products marketed under such names as Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs), personal amplifiers, amplifiers, hearing enhancers, or personal listening devices, are not considered hearing aids by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; thus, they are not required to meet hearing aid requirements. Some are better than others. Some can damage your ears if too loud.
When you go to a movie or attend a public event or meeting, you are generally entitled to hearing accommodation, although you may need to request assistance in advance.
Additional Resources for Persons with Hearing Loss
You can find lots of other online resources that may help you or someone you know who has hearing loss:
- For information on how to communicate with persons with hearing loss and listening strategies for persons with hearing loss, click here (UCSF Health).
- Apps that transcribe what is being said into written words are useful for activities such as phone calls, virtual meetings, and small group meetings. Three examples are Innocaption.com, HearingLink.org, and HearingTracker.com.
- The Washington State Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing distributes amplified phones, captioned phones, and other telecommunications equipment to Washington state residents who are deaf or hard of hearing. Cost depends upon income.
- Companies that supply captioning and captioned phones for persons with hearing loss include Captel.com, CaptionCall.com, and ClearCaptions.com. The captioning is free and usually the phone is free as well.
- Useful equipment such as clocks, alerts, and emergency response systems are also available online. One example is Diglo.com.
Contributor Diana Thompson is a member of the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services who is active in the Hearing Loss Association of America—Washington State chapter.