Hearing loss is more common than you might think

Is your TV so loud that your neighbors are getting the benefit of your new satellite dish? Hearing loss is a very common health concern in the U.S. today — in fact, it’s the third most prevalent chronic health condition in our country, ranking only behind arthritis and high blood pressure. So, if this health care concern is so prevalent, will your primary care physician recommend a screening? Chances are, no. Amazingly, only 13% of primary care physicians routinely send their patients for hearing evaluations or screenings — which means that almost 90% of patients are not directed to evaluate their hearing and could be overlooking a healthcare concern that has big consequences.

Hearing loss is no laughing matter

Failure to regularly assess hearing is a costly error for patients, their families, and for society at large. We now have a great deal of research available regarding the consequences of untreated hearing loss (isolation, fall risk, relationship to cognitive problems, quality of life, and even links to reduced income level and failure to find or keep your employment). Each year, unaddressed hearing loss costs the US economy alone billions (yes, I said billions) of dollars in employee/business/health care related issues.

The resistance factor

So, physician referral aside, why don’t more folks seek out hearing screenings, or appropriate hearing devices to address hearing loss on their own? If you know someone who is beginning to develop hearing loss, perhaps you’ve run up against this challenge. Suddenly the person you know and love becomes accusatory (“You’re mumbling”), demanding (“Don’t talk to me with your back turned”), and irritable (“You don’t have to shout at me!”). We all giggle about spouses with “selective hearing,” but it’s important to remember that in couples where one person has unaddressed hearing loss and the other does not, this one-sided deficit can take a terrible toll on the relationship itself. Did you know that the divorce rate is actually significantly higher in those marriages? Again, not really very funny.

Why do people postpone getting a simple, painless hearing test?

Well, consider that in most cases, hearing loss develops very gradually. The change can be so subtle that the person with hearing loss actually loses their frame of reference for normal loudness. While their communicative counterpart is frustrated to the max, the person with hearing loss may be blissfully unaware of what they’re missing. Additionally, in our youth-oriented culture, hearing loss is often equated to aging, and sometimes people struggle with accepting that time is passing (and they are aging!). But in actuality, this is not a fair assessment. The fact is that today, noise exposure has replaced aging as the number-one cause of hearing, and we live in a very noisy world. Just because you didn’t work in a noisy factory or serve in the military doesn’t mean you haven’t been exposed to damaging noise. Hair dryers, jet skis, yard equipment, and loud music are culprits for causing hearing loss, too.

Sometimes people worry about the cost of hearing devices themselves, which is a legitimate concern. Hearing devices can be costly, but given the amount of use (7 days per week, at least 8–10 hours per day), the cost is relatively modest as compared to the overall communication benefit, and the costs of say, an automobile. Those with hearing loss will likely use their hearing devices many more hours than their car.

Since hearing devices often represent a significant investment in healthcare, choose your hearing healthcare provider carefully

If you’ve never had your hearing evaluated, seeing an audiologist who can determine whether or not your hearing loss needs medical treatment is very important. Also, if you have budget limitations, it becomes paramount to get the most value for monies expended. In other words, you want to be certain you purchase the right product for  you, and a board certified audiologist can be a tremendous advocate in that regard.

So if the TV in your house is consistently louder than it should be, make sure that you and your family have your hearing evaluated by an audiologist, and follow their recommendations for improving your hearing health. You (and you neighbors and family members) will be glad you did!

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