Hearing loss is one of the most common health problems in people over the age of 65, but it can occur in any age group. Do you ask people to repeat what they say? Do you often turn your ear toward a sound to hear it? Do you hear better when you’re looking directly at someone’s face? Do you find it hard to follow conversation when you’re in a group of people? These are signs of hearing loss.
Unfortunately, not too many people know where to go for help. Others live in denial of the problem. Living in silence leads to missing important conversations or even putting themselves or others in danger.
The auditory system is a very complicated system, made up of the brain, nerves, bones and membranes. To describe it more simply, it is like a piano. A piano consists of black and white keys, pads and strings. The eardrum and ossicular chain, otherwise known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup, are like the keys and pads of the piano. The strings of the piano are like the nerves in our hearing system. Pianos are arranged with a low pitch range progressing to a high pitch range. Our auditory system also has a low and a high pitch range . If you have had your hearing tested, you may have been told that you have some type of hearing loss. There are several categories of hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss is sometimes referred to as “nerve” hearing loss or even as “nerve deafness”. This type of hearing loss affects the strings of the piano. Conductive hearing loss is a type of loss that affects the keys or pads of the piano (the ear canal, the eardrum or the ossicular chain). Mixed type hearing loss affects both the nerves and outer and middle ear. The piano strings, the piano keys and pads are affected.
The sounds we hear are made up of many different pitches, just like music is made up of different pitches. This includes speech sounds. Most of us are born with normal hearing. The piano strings are intact and tuned. The piano keys and pads are not sticky, making them easy to press. One can hear a pin drop in the next room, like a light touch on a piano key makes a tone. As we go through life we hear many different voices, like so many different songs. Some songs or voices are pleasant to hear, others not so pleasant. We also hear very loud sounds like guns, saws, jackhammers, tractors and stereos. These loud sounds bang the piano keys very hard and rattle the piano strings. Eventually something breaks or becomes loose.
That is when you notice that things just don’t sound like they used to. Usually, it is your family or friends that notice your hearing loss first. The television or radio is turned up loud, they comment that you are talking loud or that they have to repeat themselves to you quite often. With encouragement and support you finally decide you need to do something. The most qualified person to assess your hearing system is an Audiologist. They are University Educated specialists with a minimum Doctorate degree in Audiology. They are licensed and certified by the state and have gone through years of rigorous training in all disorders of the hearing system. You may be given a battery of tests which are designed to assess the outer ear, middle ear and the integrity of the nerves.
Upon examination you may be informed that you need help with your hearing. Most often hearing aids are recommended. What a hearing aid essentially does is push the piano keys a little harder for you, in turn you get to hear sounds a little better. It is the job of the Audiologist to fine tune the hearing aid so that it pushes the piano keys just the right amount in the appropriate pitch range so that soft and loud sounds are comfortable for you.
There are many choices in hearing aid styles and circuit types. From the very tiny completely in-the-canal hearing aids to behind-the-ear style hearing aids. From basic analog circuits to 100% digital circuits. The Audiologist will look at many factors including your general health and lifestyle in order to assist you in choosing the most appropriate hearing aids. Unlike glasses, if you have the same amount of hearing loss as your neighbor you may not be able to wear the same hearing aid as they have.
Hearing aids are custom designed and fit for your particular needs and lifestyle, if done properly. Price can vary, from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. It is important that you never feel pressured into making any decision without first consulting someone you can trust. Make sure that you can have ready access to services should your hearing aid need repair. Look for hidden charges in contracts which require you to place a deposit on the hearing aid. Make sure you have the opportunity to try the hearing aid and return it if you are not satisfied. Do not feel shy about asking questions or voicing concerns. Whomever you choose as your hearing health care provider should be willing to answer your questions.