Hearing loss—defined as a gradual or sudden decrease in how well you are able to hear—is one of the most common health conditions seniors face. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, it affects 33 percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74. Nearly 50 percent of seniors over the age of 75 experience hearing difficulties.
If you’ve found that you have trouble understanding your doctors, family members, friends and neighbors, or have to listen to the television or radio at a louder volume than you used to, you may be suffering from age-related hearing loss. Fortunately, you can do something about it. Start by learning the truth about these all too common hearing loss myths.
Myth: You should only see a specialist if your hearing loss is really bad.
Truth: Thanks to modern technology, almost all inner ear-related hearing loss is treatable. Unfortunately, the longer you wait, the less effective treatment may be. Without hearing aids to improve your hearing, over time your brain’s auditory system can actually stop recognizing sound. This means you’ll essentially need to learn to hear all over again.
Myth: My primary care physician will let me know when it’s time for hearing aids.
Truth: This depends on your doctor. One analysis of several hearing screening effectiveness studies found that nearly 66 percent of primary care physicians—including those specializing in geriatrics—do not include even a basic hearing test when performing an annual physical. If your doctor is among this group, it’s up to you to bring up your hearing loss and request referral to a specialist for treatment.
Myth: I won’t lose my hearing until I’m really old.
Truth: While it’s true that the elderly are more likely to suffer from severe hearing loss, 65 percent of Americans with hearing loss are actually under the age of 65. Many of them—60 percent in fact—are still working and/or attending school. Whatever your age, if you are having difficulties hearing, talk to your physician about the problem as soon as possible.
Myth: My grandmother/father/great uncle Bernie had hearing aids and they never really worked, so I shouldn’t even bother.
Truth:Modern hearing aids generally work well for most people with moderate to severe hearing loss. While it’s true some people do better with a cochlear implant, that’s usually only after hearing aids are no longer effective for them.
Myth: Hearing aids and cochlear implants are the only treatment options I have.
Truth: While hearing aids are very effective, they’re also expensive—with an average cost of $2,400. Many people start with a personal sound amplification program (PSAP) instead. It’s a $300 device you can purchase at an electronics store. While not approved as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration, PSAPs work by amplifying sound, come with Bluetooth earpieces, and can even synch with your smartphone.