Improving Your Hearing
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/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2022

Improving Your Hearing

Our hearing is so important. It connects us to those we love and enriches our lives. Beyond that, hearing loss is associated with declining health. According to Hopkins Medicine, brain scans show that hearing loss can diminish brain health. Hearing loss can also increase social isolation, disrupt walking ability, and put our safety at risk. Letting hearing loss go untreated leaves many people and their loved ones feeling irritable, angry, tired, ignored, and depressed.

There are several signs that you or someone you love is experiencing hearing loss. People losing their hearing can have difficulty hearing over the phone, in conversations when two or more people are talking, or in situations with background noise. They may need the television volume so loud that others complain, or they may ask people to repeat themselves, to speak up, or not to mumble.

Thankfully, there is a hearing loss solution that works for many. It’s a hearing aid. Hearing aids dramatically improve quality of life, especially for those who already have a visual or cognitive impairment. Once again, people are able to hear their grandchildren, the sounds of nature, and conversations, even those that happen in noisy environments.

Here is some guidance to seeking a hearing aid:

The most straightforward way to get a hearing aid is to see a hearing specialist. Hearing specialists can help you determine the severity of your hearing loss, its cause, its type, and its progression. Sometimes the cause has nothing to do with your actual hearing and can be easily corrected. Medicare Parts A and B do not cover hearing aids, which can be thousands of dollars. As many as 88 percent of Medicare Part C plans do cover them, sometimes with a co-pay or co-insurance. Veterans who are registered with the Veteran’s Administration receive hearing consultations, hearing aids, and batteries for little to no cost.

If they determine you need them, a hearing specialist can also recommend hearing aids. If you choose to purchase with a prescription, your hearing specialist will ensure proper hearing aid fit, provide directions for using and maintaining your hearing aids, and help you adjust them to suit your needs. 

New rules that took effect this fall mean that people 18 and older who have mild to moderate hearing impairment no longer need a prescription or to see a hearing specialist before purchasing a hearing aid. While purchasing a hearing aid without a prescription is less expensive— hundreds of dollars, instead of thousands—it is also more complex. You have to do the work of determining which is best. Before you choose this option, it is a good idea to discuss with your primary care provider first, as they may be able to help steer you in the right direction.

Self-fitting hearing aids can be purchased from pharmacies, stores, or online and allow the wearer to measure their own hearing loss, install the devices, and program them independently, without the help of a hearing specialist. Understanding how to operate and adjust the devices is crucial to their proper use.

Especially if you purchase online, be sure to read the reviews, know what sort of service is available to you, and understand the return policy before purchasing.

Personal sound amplification products (PSAP) are not hearing aids. They are designed for people with normal hearing to amplify sounds. (Hunters often use them to hear better in the woods.) PSAPs and similar products are often less expensive than hearing aids, but they do not offer all the same benefits of an actual hearing aide.

Whether you choose to see a hearing specialist or take the initiative to purchase a self-fitting hearing aid, people who follow the recommendations to improve their hearing are on their way to a richer and happier life.

Lisa Downing-Forget, MD, is an internal medicine physician treating those 60 and older at SVMC Internal Medicine, part of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington. 

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