Senior Lifestyles: Can you hear me now?

Published 10:00 pm Monday, May 22, 2017

While we may deny it, most of us know that as we age, particularly in our mid-60s and beyond, that our hearing isn’t what it used to be. In some cases, our friends and families spend as much time repeating things they’ve said as they do talking to us at all.

There is no doubt that for many men in particular there is a level of embarrassment or a perceived stigma to wearing hearing aids. For some women, it may just be denial that they are old enough to lose some of their ability to hear, and with both men and women, vanity is a factor.

What’s important to know is that most of us will, as we age, lose some ability to clearly hear certain tones like the higher pitch voices of grandchildren, or difficulty understanding words on the phone or while watching TV. 

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Even more important to be aware of is that ignoring hearing loss can result in significant emotional and social consequences. A study done by the National Council on Aging found that “…hearing-impaired adults with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia and were less likely to participate in social activities compared with those who wore hearing aids.”

Adults with age-related hearing loss often deny not being able to hear, and frequently do not perceive their own hearing loss until it has advanced significantly. It’s usually an individual’s family, friends, or caregivers who first recognize a hearing problem, and the typical first responses when someone is told, “You can’t hear…” or “You need to get your hearing checked…” is a strong denial. According to some medical reports, it is estimated that “35 million Americans are hearing impaired, but only 28 percent wear hearing devices.”

Failing to have your hearing tested and taking steps to get the necessary hearing aids can have some devastating effects on an individual’s social, psychological, cognitive, and overall health.

While hearing aids can help improve communications and the ability to enjoy life, here’s the harsh reality, and I know this from my own personal experience. Hearing aids are very costly – from $4,000 to more than $10,000, and neither Medicare nor most insurance plans pay for them. If you happen to be a military veteran and qualify for medical benefits by showing that your hearing loss was service-related, everything from the audiology testing to the hearing aids and batteries will be provided free of charge for life.

It’s a daunting challenge for far too many of us. If we can’t afford hearing aids, we risk the effects ongoing hearing loss can cause. So the tradeoff makes for a difficult choice. Sadly, when that choice is between rent, food and living expenses or buying hearing aids, the economics of the decision are already made it for us. I wish there was a better solution, but for now, we have to live with today’s reality.

Five studies have linked untreated hearing loss to the following effects:

• irritability, negativism, and anger

• fatigue, tension, stress, and depression

• avoidance or withdrawal from social situations

• social rejection and loneliness

• reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety

• impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks

• reduced job performance and earning power

• diminished psychological and overall health

• increased number of falls and accidents

• potential decrease in cognitive skills

• reduced short-term memory

• higher incidence of dementia

Ron Kauffman is a consultant, expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare, and author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease.” He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at