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50+: Live Better, Longer

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'Say What?!'

Hearing loss doesn't just happen to the elderly. Many people in their 40s and 50s have some degree of hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Denial continued...

"About three-fourths of the men and women who have a hearing loss never show up at an audiologist's office," says Mason, former director of the audiology program at George Washington University Hospital. Patients often tell her, "My spouse made me come in. She told me that the TV is so loud that she was going out of her mind."

Ironically, the person with the hearing deficit may be the last person to realize he has a problem. Hearing loss tends to occur gradually over a number of years, and people often adjust and may not even be aware that their hearing has steadily worsened -- although family members and co-workers certainly know it. "Their hearing loss may become the norm for them," says Friedman. "They may feel it's normal to miss out on parts of conversations. They often blame the people they're speaking with, complaining that others mumble."

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Your primary care doctor can test your hearing in her office with a portable handheld sound-production device (called an audioscope) that generates tones of various frequencies. If you show signs of possible hearing loss, you probably will be referred to an audiologist, who is trained in assessing hearing disorders and fitting hearing aids.

The available diagnostic tools are more sophisticated now than in the past, says Friedman, and are better able to identify hearing loss, including the site of any damage (in the outer, middle, or inner ear). The audiologist will perform a comprehensive battery of tests.

Once hearing loss is identified, people in their 40s and 50s are frequently intent on "fixing" the problem. "Baby boomers have different expectations about their hearing loss," says Loavenbruck. "Unlike many older people, they're less likely to say, 'It's part of getting older; I'm just going to live with it.' They want to take care of the problem. I find that these younger people are much more likely to say, 'I'm willing to wear a hearing aid if it will help me avoid the communication difficulties that annoy me,' whereas years ago, there was a terrible stigma attached to hearing loss."

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