Hearing Loss Can Be Denied, but . . .

By Jane Glenn Haas
The Orange County Register
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Okay. So this is something you don't want to deal with.

I mean, you figure if you just turn up the volume on your iPod or lean toward the folks speaking, no one will notice that you have a hearing loss.

Because nothing makes you feel older than having a hearing loss and requiring a (gasp!) hearing aid.

Truth is, hearing loss is inevitable after age 50, says Tom Powers, an audiologist and vice president of Siemens Hearing Instruments.

About 30 million Americans have hearing loss, trumping some of the most well-known health conditions, including diabetes (20 million), Alzheimer's disease (4.5 million) and Parkinson's disease (1.5 million).

"Still, there is a real stigma," Powers says. "Many people will say, 'Huh?' and ignore the fact that they have a hearing loss. They pretend no one will notice.

"In fact, they could have a hearing aid that no one will notice and that's a lot better than saying 'Huh?' "

Here are some other things Powers had to say in a recent conversation:

Why don't people pay attention to hearing?

Right now, hearing tests are not typically a routine part of most physicals. We try to get those tests included around age 50, but the American Academy of Audiology has not been successful yet.

So you are telling me people are losing their hearing and not paying attention?

There could be a lot of reasons for hearing loss. There is a variety of information on the Siemens Hearing Instruments Web site that can help people decide if they should see a medical specialist.

That Web site features "Vibe," a hearing aid you have developed with snap-on color covers that fits outside the ear canal. Amazing.

Cosmetics is driving a lot of the technology. Also, the attitude people have about themselves. Boomers are collectively a larger pool of individuals who are potentially going to take advantage of hearing aid technology.

Overall, they are health-conscious and they need products and services designed for them, not the traditional senior population.

I've got to ask: Is the loud music associated with rock music contributing to hearing loss?

That's one component, possibly. IPods and ear buds and listening to music at high levels do cause some hearing loss. But boomers overall have less industrial hearing loss than their parents -- that is, noise associated with factories and so on. The boomer hearing loss is more recreational, and that can include lawn mowers and weed whackers, even motorcycles.

What about ringing in the ears?

Tinnitus, as the ringing is called, is probably the result of some hearing loss. Wearing a hearing aid does provide some relief. With amplification, the ear doesn't "notice" ringing.

Tell me other ways the new hearing aids are better than before.

Well, in addition to making a fashion statement, a very sophisticated signal almost eliminates whistling and feedback. Digital signal processing today makes a difference.

The vast majority of aids today have directional microphones, really the equivalent of two microphones in one hearing instrument. One microphone is to the side and the other behind. That helps eliminate the background noise that was a major complaint.


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