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Assisting devices helpful, and make you feel younger

Forgive me when you see me draw back, when I would have gladly mingled with you. My misfortune is doubly painful to me. I must live almost alone, like someone who has been banished. If I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me. I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed. What a humiliation when someone standing next to me hears a flute or a shepherd singing and I hear nothing. Such incidences drove me to despair, a little more of that and I would have ended my life. It was only my art that held me back.—Ludwig Von Beethoven, German composer and pianist,1770-1827

Who appears older to others?  A person who cannot hear and asks that everything be repeated, then smiles and pretends to understand what was never clear? Or a person who is comfortable with well-fitted hearing aids that allow them to hear comfortably and without confusion?

Frequent column readers already know the author’s bias toward assistive devices of every kind that allow an individual to function more competently, whether it is the use of a cane or a hearing aid.  I believe that individuals who use assistive devices well, and have an appreciation for how such devices allow them to enrich their lives, look so much younger than the aging person who refuses to admit any limitations, and will not countenance the idea of assistive devices.

There is more information to share with you regarding hearing loss, but we will begin with a review of last week’s information.  We learned that you may a hearing problem if you have trouble hearing over the telephone, find it hard to follow conversations when two or more people are talking, need to turn up the TV or radio volume so loud that others complain, have a problem hearing because of background noise and/or feel that others always mumble when they speak to you.

We reviewed different types of hearing loss such as Presbycusis, sensorineural and Tinnitus.  Another type of hearing loss is called conductive hearing loss.  This type of loss happens when something blocks the sounds that are carried from the ear drum (tympanic membrane) to the inner ear.  Ear wax buildup, fluid in the middle ear, abnormal bone growth, a punctured eardrum, or a middle ear infection can cause this type of hearing loss.  If ear wax blockage is a problem for you, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck surgery suggests using mild treatments, such as mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin or commercial ear drops to soften ear wax.  If you think you may have a hole in your eardrum, however, you should see your doctor.

Perhaps it’s not you with the hearing problem, but someone you love.  Here are some tips you can use when talking with someone who has a hearing problem:  Face the person and talk clearly.  Speak at a reasonable speed; do not hide your mouth, eat, or chew gum.  Stand in good lighting and reduce background noises.  Use facial expressions or gestures to give useful clues.  Repeat yourself if necessary, using different words.  Include the hearing-impaired person when talking.  Talk with the person, not about the person, when you are with others.  This helps keep the hearing-impaired person from feeling alone and excluded. Be patient; try to stay positive and relaxed.  Ask how you can help.

If you are the person who has trouble hearing, let people know about this.  Ask people for what you need.  Ask them to face you and to speak more slowly and clearly.  Also ask them to speak without shouting. Pay attention to what is being said and to facial expressions or gestures.  Let the person talking know if you do not understand.  If you need to, ask people to reword a sentence and try again.

Treatments that may help hearing loss depend on the exact nature of your hearing problem.  A common solution is the use of hearing aids. These are small devices you wear in or behind your ear.  Hearing aids can help some kinds of hearing loss by making sounds louder.  However, they sometimes pick up background noises – for example, traffic noise in the street or people talking at other tables in a crowded restaurant.  This can affect how well you hear in certain situations.  Before buying a hearing aid, check to find out if  your insurance will cover the cost.

There are many kinds of hearing aids.  An audiologist can help fit you with the hearing aid that will work best for you.  You can ask the audiologist about having a trial period to try out a few different aids.  Remember, when you buy a hearing aid, you are buying a product and a service.  Find a hearing aid dealer who has the patience and skill to help you during the month or so it takes to get used to the new hearing aid.

You may need to have several fittings of your hearing aid, and you will need to get directions on how to use it.  Hearing aids use batteries, which you will need to change on a regular basis.  They also may need repairs from time to time.  Buy a hearing aid that has only the features you need.  Like any other purchase, bells and whistles may absolutely confuse things and increase your learning curve.

Additionally, more information is available from The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, www.nided.nih.gov.  Also you can contact the American Speech-Language-Hearing association, www.asha.org and/or the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck surgery, Inc, www.entnet.orgSenior Moments is grateful to the National Institute on Aging for much of the information in today’s column.

Thank you for reading.  Stay well.  See you next week

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