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No Better Time than the Present to Treat Hearing Loss

6/1/2017

By Dr. Debra Griffin

This is the third and final article in a series I recently wrote concerning hearing loss. If you have not yet read the first two articles, I encourage you to read both “10 Surprising Causes of Hearing Loss” and “Untreated Hearing Loss: Effects and Who to See.” In those articles, I have outlined how hearing affects the overall health of our aging loved ones, and who should be seen to treat the effects of hearing loss. Today, let’s focus on some causes of hearing loss and available technology advancements.

The sad thing to me is that while doctors know that communication with their patients is important, according to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, physicians and older adults do not mention that hearing loss may affect their interaction. The reality is that hearing loss has been neglected not only in the medical community but also in family communications.

Here are a few quick statistics that you may find interesting:

  • Two to three of every 1,000 children in the US are born with hearing loss.
  • 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents.
  • 15% of American adults have trouble hearing.
  • The greatest percentage of people with hearing loss are in the 60–69 year old age group.
  • More than 80% of those older than 85 have hearing loss.
  • Men are two times more likely than women to have hearing loss from ages 20 to 69.
  • Approximately 28.8 million US adults could benefit from hearing aid use.
  • Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the US behind heart disease and arthritis.

What causes hearing loss?

The majority of hearing losses, approximately 80%, do not require medical treatment or surgical intervention. As stated before, you must have a diagnostic hearing evaluation in order to differentiate the type and degree of your hearing loss. Listed below are the most common causes of hearing loss:

  • Loud noise exposure
  • Genetic hearing loss (“It runs in the family.”)
  • Viral or autoimmune inner ear diseases
  • Age-related presbycusis (natural aging of the auditory system)
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Head trauma
  • Otosclerosis, which is calcification of the bones in the middle ear

So, once the type of hearing loss has been identified and there is no surgical or medical option, what should be done? Hearing aids.

Let me pause here and say that I have never had a single patient come into my office excited about the potential need for hearing aids. The reality is that we really do want the benefits of great hearing aids —to have a conversation without having to repeat everything, to understand the preacher or prayer requests at church, to enjoy conversation in a restaurant, and to follow a program on TV without having to increase the volume. Despite the social isolation and other life-altering effects of untreated hearing loss, almost all people who do not wear hearing aids feel negatively about wearing hearing aids. Also, there is work — and cost — involved. Despite the many, many benefits, it’s not an easy decision. You’re not alone in your reluctance to take the plunge. But let me share some more information that may interest you.

Today’s Hearing Technology

There have been only three paradigm shifts in the hearing aid industry that have occurred within my 29-year career. The most significant shift occurred only one year ago, in June of 2016. The engineers that develop and test hearing aids work tirelessly to deliver devices that control background noise. You may be surprised to read that they have been able to build a device that can block ALL background noise, while enhancing speech only. Sounds great, right? However, when these devices were tested on actual patients, every person hated it. Why? We as human beings want to be able to pay attention to what interests us, and if every sound except the voice of the person you’re talking to is removed, you don’t have the option to switch your interest.

Here is an example of old versus new processing. Imagine being at a football game and using binoculars the entire game. You would be able to see each play very well but would miss everything else in the stadium — the cheerleaders, the mascot, the person coming down your row with plastic cups ready to spill. This is an example of directional microphone noise reduction. Now imagine being able to see most of the field and pay attention to whatever catches your eye. Obviously the second example is what we would all choose. Today’s new technology opens up the soundscape to embrace multiple speakers. This allows you to more easily locate and separate sound sources, then focus on what you find important, while maintaining the full sound picture.

How about a few facts that blow my mind daily. See if you agree.

The Oticon Velox chip, which is now available in some hearing aid models, allows for the following:

  • Scans your sound environment 360 degrees, 100 times per second
  • Performs more than 1.2 billion calculations per second in order to deliver the best speech understanding in complex listening environments
  • Reduces noise between words
  • Communicates ear to ear approximately 85 times per second
  • Significantly reduces listening effort
  • Increases memory for conversations

Because we are now able to make hearing aids comfortable to wear and give the brain enough details to function like it did before hearing loss, today’s hearing aid satisfaction rate is extremely high, which supports our passion to help people reconnect every day through better hearing.

If anything in this article or the previous two articles has peaked your interest, we would love to share more information with you. We have three locations to serve the north Florida area, and we would love to hear from you. Please visit our website at www.HearingSolutionInc.com.

About the author: Dr. Debra Griffin was born and raised in Lake City, Florida. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Florida State University and her doctorate at the University of Florida. She began her career at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, then moved to Jacksonville (both in Florida), where she worked with an ENT practice. She later managed the first Walmart hearing center in Jacksonville, which led to her opportunity to pursue private practice. In June of 1998, Dr. Griffin returned to her roots in Lake City and founded Hearing Solutions, Inc. Dr. Griffin also has an office in Live Oak, Florida, and sees patients at Copeland Medical Center in Dowling Park every Tuesday.

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