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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.

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."

Pump Up the Volume

Thanks to new technology, says Friedman, today's hearing aids are much better and much smaller than their predecessors. The most significant recent development in is the availability of digital technology for people with hearing loss.

"The first digital hearing aid was available in the late 1980s," says Mason. "It was a large device that was fitted behind the ear, with a hard wire that went to a large power supply and speech processor worn on the waistband."

But when the public turned a deaf ear to these bulky devices, the manufacturers went back to the drawing boards. "Today, all of the digital components fit into a hearing aid that can be placed into the ear canal and is virtually invisible," says Mason.

There are now several levels of digital hearing aids, says Loavenbruck, "from what are called 'economy' or 'entry level' digital aids, to very sophisticated and quite expensive digital aids that permit a lot of sophisticated programming." The cost of these digital devices ranges from about $1,400 to more than $3,000 per ear.

Do You Have a Hearing Loss?

Here are some questions that can help you determine whether your hearing needs to be formally tested:

  • Do you feel frustrated speaking with friends and family members, straining to hear (and often misunderstanding) what they say?
  • Do family and friends need to raise their voices or repeat themselves when talking with you?
  • Do others complain that you keep the volume on the TV set too loud?
  • Do you have hearing difficulties when conversing on the telephone?
  • Do you feel that hearing limitations are interfering with your social life?
  • When ambient noise is present, such as in restaurants, do you have trouble hearing what others are saying?
  • Do you get into arguments with family members because of an apparent hearing loss?

For a referral to a certified audiologist in your community or information about hearing loss, contact the ASHA at (800) 638-8255 or www.asha.org.

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