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Hearing Well is Key to Living Well

Nov. 7, 2012

Hearing loss is currently the third most common chronic condition among older Americans, yet it is underdiagnosed, and treatment is often expensive.

The problem could become even more pronounced during the coming years. Millions of Baby Boomers are now reaching the age when hearing loss is more prevalent. Moreover, one in five teens already has some hearing loss, in part due to prolonged exposure to loud noises, including the frequent use of ear bud headphones to listen to music. More than 90 percent of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids, yet fewer than 15 percent access devices that can improve their quality of life and health, often due to high cost.

Hearing loss can affect a person’s ability to stay connected to friends and family, contributing to social isolation, lower earnings, depression, dementia, and higher risk of falls, according to the National Institute of Health and the National Council on Aging. By contrast, hearing aid users report significant improvements in relationships, self‐esteem, overall quality of life, mental health and safety.

There are many strategies people can take to preserve their hearing, as well as ways to more easily and affordably access hearing aids, including:

•Talk to your doctor and schedule a hearing test – There are common signs of hearing loss, such as turning up the volume on the TV or radio, having trouble hearing people on the phone, or difficulty with following conversations in noisy environments.

•Limit exposure to loud noises – People should limit their exposure to loud sounds, such as music, lawn mowers, or motorcycles, to no more than 20 minutes at a time. When attending concerts or sporting events, consider wearing hearing protection. Studies have shown that consistent exposure to loud sounds above 100 decibels, as compared to a normal conversation of 60 decibels, can permanently affect hearing. However, more than 40percent of Americans incorrectly believe that it is safe to be exposed to loud sounds for 60 minutes or more, according to a recent survey from Opinion Research Corp. and hi HealthInnovations.

•Use effective communication strategies – It is important for people with hearing loss to use effective communication strategies and select settings that are “hearing friendly.” For example, people with hearing loss should opt for restaurants that are relatively quiet and go at times that are less busy. Another strategy is to select a table along a wall or in a corner, which will reduce background noise. During conversations, watch lip movements, facial expressions and body language, all of which give important information about the speaker’s message.

•Engage with family and friends – Hearing loss affects individuals, their families and their friends. It is important to discuss hearing loss together, providing support and encouragement for people experiencing hearing loss. When speaking with someone with hearing loss, make sure you face them and avoid covering your mouth while speaking. Also, it is important to avoid speaking too quickly.

•Research custom-programmed hearing aids – Hearing aid technology has advanced. Hearing aids are now more comfortable, provide better sound quality, and come in sleek and stylish models. Some insurance plans, including ones from UnitedHealthcare, now cover much of the cost of hearing aids, which makes obtaining treatment and support more affordable.

About 48 million Americans suffer from hearing loss. By following the above tips, people can maintain their hearing health and help those with hearing loss live fuller, healthier lives.

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