Hard of hearing for the holidays
If your dad seems a bit standoffish or withdrawn at your holiday gatherings this year, or if your great aunt keeps asking people to quit mumbling and repeat themselves, they may not be persnickety. Those behaviors can be signs of hearing loss.
That was the message I got in a pitch from a p.r. person whose client wanted to talk with me about how hearing loss can be socially isolating for people -- something that might become apparent during family gatherings this season -- and how hearing loss can be addressed. All interesting, useful stuff, for sure.
But to heck with Dad and the great aunts. The hearing loss I'm most worried about right now is my own.
Years of listening to really, really loud rock music has exacted a price: In some situations, I can't make out what people are saying to me.
When I go to yoga class and try to enjoy a one-on-one pre-practice conversation with a fellow student, I strain to comprehend above the background noise of other people's chatter. When I went out for a holiday lunch with a friend last week and a large group of boisterous people sat at the table next to ours, I found myself practically lip-reading through the meal. In fact, I find myself nodding a lot when people talk to me these days, pretending I know what they mean when in fact I can't even hear all their words. By the way, I'm 49 years old.
Dr. Thomas Powers, vice president of audiology and compliance for Siemens Hearing Instruments made the case that hearing loss usually can be thoroughly countered by use of a hearing aid. (To his credit, he never mentioned, much less recommended, a Siemens hearing aid during our conversation.)
He acknowledged that many people avoid seeking hearing aids because of the devices' fuddy-duddy stigma, but points out that today's high-tech instruments can be concealed behind the ears. You'd have to really be looking for them to know they were there. You can even hook them up to your Bluetooth these days!
Me, I could care less about how hearing aids might make me look. I'm not getting my hearing checked right now because I'm afraid someone's going to tell me I need them. And I can't afford them.
Powers tells me that although an estimated 35 million people in the U.S. have hearing loss severe enough to hamper communication, only 2 million hearing aids are sold each year -- half of them as replacements for worn-out aids -- and only 6 million to 8 million aids are in use in this country in a given year. That sounds like a lot of people doing without.
Powers confirms that most insurance plans, like mine, don't cover the cost of hearing aids. And those costs are substantial, as they include not just the instruments themselves -- which can run anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000 per ear -- but also the several doctor visits required to diagnose the hearing loss, custom fit the hearing aids and adjust them after a trial run. Plus, the aids need replacing every five to seven years.
"The vast majority of hearing aids in the U.S. are privately paid for," Powers notes. "And they're one of the few medical devices excluded under Medicare."
Of course, my husband and I would bite the bullet and pay up if my hearing seemed to interfere with my ability to, say, drive safely, or if I had trouble hearing during phone conversations, or if I became the spouse who kept insisting we turn the volume up on the TV. But for now, since my loss seems to affect only those situations in which I'm trying to focus on a single voice when there's lots of other noise nearby, I'll muddle through.
Let's hear your tales of hearing-loss woe. And make your voice heard in today's poll.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
December 14, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Aging , Chronic Conditions , Disabilities
Save & Share: Previous: Do neti pots promote sinus health?
Next: Amid holiday stress, take a minute to stretch
Posted by: drl97 | December 14, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: mmad2 | December 14, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: StrollerMomma | December 14, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: petjam | December 14, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Alex511 | December 14, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dmulvany | December 14, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tlbepson | December 14, 2009 10:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: GeriCareFinder | December 17, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: WashingtonDame | December 18, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.