May is Better Hearing Month and according to experts, there’s no better time than the present to check up on your hearing health. No matter how healthy you are, it’s a good idea to make a habit of having an annual hearing evaluation, says Jennifer Reekers, doctor of audiology and co-owner of Heartland Hearing in Cedar Rapids.
While many people associate hearing loss with aging, it’s actually much more common at all ages than you might think. “Hearing loss doesn’t discriminate and can create challenges in how you communicate. We encourage a baseline hearing test at age 40 with routine monitoring moving forward,” Reekers says. “Similar to other medical professionals you visit each year — family, eye and dental — an audiologist will compare each evaluation with the previous one and address problems as they arise.”
That kind of early intervention is key. Since hearing loss is a progressive disease, it can come on slowly and many people don’t realize how bad symptoms become over the years. And those symptoms can have a wide impact on various aspects of life.
“Many people don’t realize that hearing is actually a brain function. The ears collect sound, but it’s the brain that translates the information into recognizable sound to alert us to a firetruck or enjoy a child laughing,” Reekers says. “Research from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging discovered a link between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline, dementia and history of falling. The brain naturally shrinks with age, but their research found the process is fast-tracked in older adults with untreated hearing loss.”
The good news is that treatment is available for people of all ages, and advancements in technology are making it easier than ever to get the appropriate solution for your needs.
“One of the nicest developments in hearing aids in recent years is the ability for the hearing aid to adjust automatically to the patient’s environment,” says Nancy Sickelka, doctor of audiology at Cedar Rapids Hearing Center. “A patient no longer has to push a button when they go into background noise to hear better in that environment.”
For patients who prefer to maintain control of their hearing aid by making their own adjustments, there are also apps available that can connect directly with hearing aids. “The newest development is Bluetooth capability. This allows direct connectivity to other Bluetooth devices. By downloading an app on their smartphone, the patient can listen to their phone, their TV and their music through their hearing aids. The apps are user-friendly and free,” says Sickelka.
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While many people have a traditional idea of one type of hearing aid option, the latest advances have provided some unique products to suit various preferences.
“If you’re a techie, you will be fascinated that hearing aids are cutting-edge gadgets. If you are not a technology lover, don’t worry — today’s hearing aids work behind the scenes automatically so you just focus on hearing your best,” Reekers says.
A lot of patients who are in need of hearing aids do have other concerns — most often about costs and appearances. “There are many price levels for hearing aids, depending on the technology level,” Sickelka says. Often insurance can help cover the expenses as well.
And as for people who are concerned about how hearing aids will look, Reekers says the benefits of getting the treatment you need far outweigh any insecurities you might have.
“Many patients are concerned hearing aids will make them appear older. The truth is, having untreated hearing loss is more noticeable. Nothing ages a person more than continually asking people to repeat themselves, answering questions inappropriately or being disconnected from the world around you,” Reekers says. “Wearing hearing aids allows you to stay socially active, engaged in conversation and active in your career.”