Hearing loss is a silent intruder. You never notice it, as it steals away the richness of voices, music, TV and movies – even the rustle of a newspaper.
I’m writing this blog post after only a few days of wearing hearing aids.
Zowie! It’s like seeing your first full-colour, 3-D movie – with Dolby surround sound! What a difference!
I had a hearing test about three years ago. The audiologist said I had moderate hearing loss. It didn’t seem like much of a problem, so I ignored the results.
Gradually, ever so gradually, I found that I could hear, but not understand voices. For example, the characters in the show House of Cards sounded like mush. The way my TV is set up, I get the sound through the TV set’s tiny speakers, not through my stereo system, when I watch Netflix. I blamed the lousy sound on the little speakers. I cranked up the volume. It didn’t make the voices clearer.
In the last year or so, I found myself shouting, “Wha-a-a-a-a-a-t?” when my wife spoke to me. Her voice sounded like it was coming from the other side of a pillow.
You can just imagine how she enjoyed my shouting…
An Audiology test can help you understand what is going on
I finally went for an audiology test that confirmed that I could hear low-frequency sounds normally, but that I had noticeable loss of the sounds from the middle of the range upward.
A couple of weekends ago, I was at my daughter’s home sitting around the dining table with the rest of the family. The conversation was quite loud, yet I found it impossible to comprehend what my niece and her boyfriend seated right across from me were saying. In my frustration I even tried to read their lips!
That evening I told my family that I was going to buy hearing aids. Guess what. My family unleashed comment after comment about how, for a long while, they’d noticed I wasn’t hearing well!
I don’t know if they’d told me in the past and I had just shrugged it off, if they assumed I knew I had hearing loss, or if there is some kind of stigma about hearing loss associated with aging so they didn’t mention it.
Whatever the case, it’s fair to say they were relieved to hear that I was going to do something about it.
78% of adults age 20 to 79 have at least slight hearing loss
That’s a fact – gleaned from a 2012-to-2015 Statistics Canada report on hearing loss among Canadians.
While older adults are the most affected, younger adults can also be at risk of hearing loss. 40% of adults age 40 to 59 have some hearing loss and 15% of adults age 20 to 39.
According to the results males (47%) were significantly more likely to have hearing loss compared with females (32%).
How much does hearing loss really matter, especially to seniors?
This may take you aback.
There’s a proven connection between hearing loss and dementia.
A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association followed nearly 2000 older adults with measured hearing loss and found that they had 32% greater risk of cognitive decline than the same aged people with normal hearing. What’s more, the greater the hearing loss, the greater the cognitive decline.
So the obvious question is, can restoring hearing hearing improve the quality life for elderly people who have hearing loss and are cognitively impaired?
A 2015 study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery showed that “rehabilitation of hearing communication through cochlear implantation in elderly patients results in improvements in speech perception and cognitive abilities and positively influences their social activity and quality of life.”
The study covered 94 profoundly deaf patients with symptoms of dementia in France, with a median age of 72 over three years. One patient had a cochlear implant in both ears. Ninety-three had an implant in one ear. The results? You’ll find a small mountain of statistics about improvements in speech perception, cognition and quality of life and reduced depression in the study.
Put simply, within the three-year limit of the study, improving hearing makes the brain work better. Long-term effects remain to studied.
The connection between hearing loss and dementia
From what I’ve learned, it’s the effect of hearing loss, not the loss itself that contributes to dementia.
As we lose our hearing, we are less and less able to participate comfortably in what’s going on around us. We can’t hear much of it. So we withdraw. (See my comments above about the recent family dinner.)
As we withdraw, the neural connections that we stimulate by being engaged gradually begin to atrophy from disuse. We begin to lose our facility with words. Our cognition goes to pieces. So do our sense of well-being. This can lead to loneliness, depression and contribute to the advance of dementia
Dementia is complicated. Hearing loss is only one possible contributing factor leading to this type of cognitive decline.
OHIP covers a hearing test by an audiologist, so there’s really no excuse to avoid one
There are many audiologists operating free-standing clinics. There are clinics associated with hospitals. Even Costco has clinics.
I found my hearing test to be quite pleasant and actually pretty interesting. For possibly the first time in your life, you’ll get a precise picture of which ear hears how much. You’ll learn how well you hear the full range of sound, from low notes through the mid-range to the highs. (It’s not unusual for older men to lose some of their sensitivity to high notes.) You’ll also find out how well you hear an individual sound among overall noise, something that may surprise you.
My suggestion? If you have even the least bit of doubt about your ability to hear, and especially if you’ve also hit 60, get a hearing test.
Modern hearing aids are tiny, light and unobtrusive – and there many brands to choose from
One of the best places to begin learning about hearing loss and hear aids is in the website of the Canadian Hearing Society. This organization is sort of the “motor league of deafness and hearing loss.” It educates. It advocates. And it provides testing services and product sales.
Another is the Bob Rumball Canadian Centre of Excellence for the Deaf
While hearing aids are tiny, they’re actually complex digital instruments that can do many things beyond amplify sound. They come in broad price ranges, from basic to mid-range to high end. And they’re not cheap. A pair of basic hearing aids may cost around $1,600 at an audiology clinic. Mid-range products run about $3,000 a pair. At the top end, be ready to shell out about $6,000 a pair.
The extra cost of mid- to high-end hearing aids pays for finer sound control and for extra functions that may be worth having to suit your lifestyle. It may well be that a pair of basic hearing aids would solve your problem.
Yes, there are ways to reduce the high cost of hearing aids
Just to help you recover from sticker shock, I bought my hearing aids at Costco. For about $2,000, I have top-end performance in Costco’s Kirkland Signatures brand and saved thousands of dollars.
The Costco audiologist did her own complete hearing test (about an hour and a half). It was free, because I’m a Costco member. So I didn’t have to worry about OHIP having recently paid for a previous test by another audiologist.
The Costco audiologist told me that the Kirkland Signature brand produced slightly sharper sound than the manufacturer’s own brand, which costs $3,200 a pair. For me, my hearing aids produce comfortable sound, although the highs in music get a little screechy if they’re very loud.
Hearing aids are like all audio equipment – each manufacturer meets certain performance goals, but each also has its own biases about what great sound should be. Just as some stereo speakers are “brighter” than others, or “warmer,” so there also are variations among hearing aids. Your audiologist will work with you to find the brand that serves you best.
- The Costco audiologist programmed my hearing aids for my particular problem. Furthermore, I can modify the settings through an app in my iPhone. This is proving to be really useful –
when I watch TV, I can select a forward focus so the microphones pick up the TV with less of the sound that’s bouncing off the walls.
- Yesterday, when my wife wasn’t feeling well, I selected 360 degree reception, set on automatic, which meant that the microphones would favour the direction from which the single most prominent sound came. I also set the pickup to “louder.” That enabled me to work in my office, with my back to our bedroom, where my wife was resting. Still, I easily could hear my wife call when she needed me.
- Because my hearing aids are paired to my iPhone, incoming phone calls go directly to my hearing aids. For the first time, I don’t have to struggle to hear an iPhone phone call.
These are some of the hearing aid brands available in Canada
Signia offers hearing aids with rechargeable batteries and Bluetooth. Another brand with rechargeable batteries is Phonak, a Swiss company that also produces cochlear implants and covert communication systems. Resound GN is a Danish company with a rich background in medical, professional and consumer audio solutions. Widex Evoke hearing aids are the first to use machine learning to improve themselves as you wear them. Bernafon’s Zerena 9 is yet another rechargeable brand.
There’s no question the trend is toward the convenience of rechargeable batteries. My Costco brand uses old-fashioned replaceable batteries that should last about a week.
The Ontario Government may contribute $1,000 a pair to your purchase
The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care will pay $1,000 of the cost of hearing aids, provided you are an Ontario resident who has a valid Ontario Health card issued in your name and have had a physical disability for six months or longer.
If you carry personal or group health insurance, you may be covered for much of the rest of the cost of hearing aids. My own insurance will pay 80% of my cost up to $1,100; because of the low price of my hearing aids, I wound up paying $200 out of pocket.
The price of hearing aids covers more than just the hardware
Once you decide to buy, you’ll get an appointment to pick up your hearing aids and have them tuned to your ears. That will involve about an hour of the audiologist’s time.
Before you leave with your new hearing aids, you’ll also set an appointment for what I’ll call a tune-up. After a couple of weeks of use, you’ll be able to ask the audiologist to make any adjustments you both feel would be helpful. More of the audiologist’s time.
Hearing aids to come with a 30 to 90 day warranty. Usually with a full refund if they aren’t working to your satisfaction.
Don’t struggle with your declining hearing, get your hearing tested, find out if hearing aids are right for you, and if they are, get a pair. You’ll never look back!
New as I am to hearing aids, I’m delighted by the little things I’d forgotten I haven’t heard in years.
Like when my car’s turn indicators click. I used to hear CLICK. Now I hear CLICK-click.
My daughter came over last night and from behind my closed condo door, I could hear the PING of the arriving elevator down the hall. Amazing!
And best of all my wife doesn’t need to hear “Wha-a-a-a-a-a-t?” anymore!