October is a beautiful time for enjoying the sights and sounds of Cape May County and the surrounding region. Some of us have trouble hearing the sounds of fall, including the waves slapping the shore under a full moon. Many of us are more likely to pick up a spiral conch shell and place it next to our ear than to consider using a hearing aid.
October is Audiology Awareness Month. Throughout my career, I’ve cared for children and adults to ensure they can hear and process the sounds and sights of their everyday life. I recently had the hearing aid conversation with my mother.
As my mother’s daughter, and as an audiologist, I have an ear and an eye for the hearing challenges she’s starting to have. We’ve had chats about her hearing several times, including just before she celebrated her 84th birthday. I’m so grateful to still have her in my life. And I’m thankful that decades ago, my mother made a decision when I was only four years old. It was because of her choice to get me hearing aids that I can talk with her and understand her today.
Remembering my mother crying when my audiologist told her I had hearing loss, I found fitting her with hearing aids particularly poignant. We’re not sure what caused my hearing loss, but we do know that I had several ear infections within a short time. This could have contributed to why I couldn’t hear. My parents would be calling or talking with me and I wouldn’t answer. When I watched TV I’d sit on the floor to be close to the screen. My parents decided to have my hearing tested. I’ve worn hearing aids ever since.
How we hear and process our world impacts our overall wellness whatever our age is. Studies and research have shown that use of hearing aids can reduce older adults’ risks of developing dementia. My colleagues and I have personally and professionally witnessed the impact poor hearing can have on older adults.
How do you bring the hearing conversation and help to the here and now with your parents, grandparents, or the neighbor you’ve adopted as your honorary relative?
Heed symptoms that could signal hearing loss, including:
· Difficulty hearing/understanding when more than one person is talking or in noisy environments.
· Asking people to repeat what they are saying.
· Passing on social activities they previously enjoyed.
· Needing to pump up the volume when watching TV, listening to music, or taking in any audible experience.
Encourage the person to make an appointment with their primary care provider or ear, nose and throat specialist, who:
· Will evaluate whether they need to see an audiologist.
· Can consider other health issues that that impact hearing, overall health.
Assist the individual with
· Getting to medical appointments.
· Writing down symptoms and challenges to share with the healthcare provider.
Reassure the person, that
· Identifying their hearing or processing issue can help them get the right care to hear, understand, and live better.
· Telling family and friends about hearing challenges can help them support you and communicate with you.
· An audiologist and other healthcare professionals can provide them with resources needed.
Imagine the frustration your loved one might be experiencing, when
· They ask, “What did you say?” and people respond, “Never mind,” or “It’s not important.”
· People complain that they have the TV too loud.
· People accuse them of not listening or paying attention.
· They are lonely because they avoid socializing because they can’t hear.
Notice common excuses about hearing, including
· “I can hear fine. (Insert any name) just mumbles!”
· “Hearing aids are too complicated.”
· “I’m too old for change.”
· “I don’t need a hearing evaluation, I can buy an over-the-counter hearing aid or hearing assist device.”
Guide the person with sound facts, including
· Hearing problems are like any other health issue: you shouldn’t be embarrassed and you should get the right diagnosis, to manage them and to prevent related health issues. They could result from wax in your ears, infection, or structural issues you were born with.
· You wouldn’t just go get putty to make an impression to make a new set of teeth for yourself. You’d see a dental specialists. You wouldn’t just go pick out pair of glasses without seeing an eye specialist to determine what your prescription should be. You need a professional evaluation and follow-up care to diagnose, treat and continue to manage your hearing issue.
· Hearing aids have dramatically changed for the better, especially over the last few years.
Just as I saw my mother cry all those years ago, so, too have I been on the verge of tears seeing so many of my patients, and their children or parents cry when they finally hear better. For more information about primary, ear nose and throat, or audiology care, visit atlanticare.org or call 1-888-569-1000