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