Judson Haims: Greater quality of life is gained from hearing aids | AspenTimes.com

Judson Haims: Greater quality of life is gained from hearing aids

Judson Haims
Special to The Aspen Times

For anyone who suffers from hearing loss, you may be all too aware of the frustration caused to both yourself and to those people that are close to you.

Understanding hearing loss may be the first step in making a choice to do something about it. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, "About 20 percent of adults in the United States, 48 million, report some degree of hearing loss." After arthritis and heart disease, the loss of one's ability to hear ranks among the most common type of physical condition ailments among older adults.

There are four generally accepted levels of hearing loss: mild, moderate, severe and profound.

Mild hearing loss: Soft noises are not heard. Understanding speech is difficult in a loud environment.

Moderate hearing loss: Soft and moderately loud noises are not heard. Understanding speech becomes very difficult if background noise is present.

Severe hearing loss: Conversations have to be conducted loudly. Group conversations are possible only with a lot of effort.

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Profound hearing loss: Some very loud noises are heard. Without a hearing aid, communication is no longer possible even with intense effort.

Unless there has been an injury or medical condition, most people may not realize that their hearing is diminishing. Common medical conditions such as infections, hypertension, diabetes, vascular disease and immunologic disorders as well as smoking are contributing factors for hearing loss. Outside of such conditions, most often hearing loss is a gradual occurrence. People can experience a gradual loss of hearing where they may have trouble distinguishing and understanding conversations in noisy settings.

As people age, it is not uncommon that age-related hearing loss occurs. Age-related hearing loss is called presbycusis. While presbycusis is more common in men than women, it affects more than half of all adults by age 75 years. Because the loss of hearing is so gradual, people with presbycusis may not realize that their hearing is diminishing.

Some symptoms of presbycusis include:

• The speech of others seems mumbled or slurred.

• High-pitched sounds such as "s" and "th" are difficult to hear and tell apart.

• Conversations are difficult to understand, especially when there is background noise.

• A man's voice is easier to hear than the higher pitches of a woman's voice.

Hearing loss can lead to many unintended consequences. Outside of just being frustrating, hearing loss can cause depression and isolation. When a person experiencing hearing loss is frequently unable to understand what's going on or continually asks people to repeat themselves and/or "speak up," they may find that they choose to remove themselves from conversations. Such actions can lead to the avoidance of social engagement, and ultimately cause people to become depressed as they feel they are left out of conversations.

Fortunately, any social stigmas that once may have existed with wearing hearing aids have for the most part disappeared. This may be due in part to both social acceptance and the technological advancements of wireless, Bluetooth and FM technologies.

Over the past couple of decades, hearing aids have become incredibly smaller. Further, across all age spectrums, almost everyone is used to seeing people with some type of audio device in or on people's ears, i.e. earbuds, headphones or Bluetooth phone devices.

If you are one of the thousands of people asking friends and family to speak up, or find that you are telling people they are mumbling, perhaps you may want to consider that the issue is not theirs — it is yours.

The most important thing you can do if you think you have a hearing problem is to go see a hearing health care professional.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. He can be reached at visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.