Opinion Columns & Blogs

August 30, 2014

Pamela Clemensen: People with hearing loss are missing out on a vital part of life

Legislators who deny health coverage for hearing aids are deaf to the significance of this medical problem.

‘Can you hear me? … Can you hear me now?”

I am not referring to a cellphone ad. I am talking about communicating with someone who has difficulty hearing. Some of us wear hearing aids, or have a family member or friend who does (or, worse, does not when you wish they would). Many who need them don’t buy them, and many who buy them don’t wear them.

Hearing impairment is a universal problem. People living in Modesto and the surrounding area are no exception, especially with the growing number of baby boomers.

We start to lose our hearing in our 30s or 40s ( www.hearit.org). A 2008 study by Sergie Kochkin revealed that approximately 35 million Americans suffer hearing loss, and more than 25 million do not have a hearing aid. By 2025, those suffering from hearing loss will number over 40 million.

Modesto audiologist Andrea Edgerton estimates that of those who need hearing aids, fewer than half get them – and often seven years or so after recognizing they’re having trouble hearing.

Cost might be one reason. Hearing aids are not covered by medical insurance, even though hearing impairment is clearly a medical issue.

As for owning but not wearing them, some say they are uncomfortable and a bother. Vanity is often another reason. As a result, this population can be easily isolated, withdrawn and “tuned out” of the real world. This behavior is neither helpful nor healthy, and can lead to myriad other problems – which make hearing impairment worse.

The American Medical Association has affirmed that hearing loss correlates with the level of cognitive decline in adults. Dr. Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins University says moderate to severe hearing loss increases the risk of developing dementia, which can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. The research speaks volumes that are going unheard.

Legislators who have denied coverage for hearing aids might not be hard of hearing themselves, but they are completely deaf to the fact that it is clearly a major medical problem.

My husband, a retired educator, became aware several years ago that he needed hearing aids when he was a substitute assistant principal at a high school. After several incidents of trying to listen to a “side of the story” from different teenage girls, he knew he needed to address his hearing loss. (Female voices are higher pitched and thus more difficult for him to understand.) The hearing aids he ultimately bought took all of his earnings from the post-retirement job.

Thus began my journey as a “hearing aid spouse.” I was there when he tried to eat one, thinking it was a nut. I heard the crunch when he closed them in the threshold of the back door. I stood by in a restaurant kitchen as he rummaged through slimy garbage looking for the aid he removed and left on the table to answer his cellphone. I phoned the hotel where he left them when we were already too far down the road to turn back. (The concierge graciously mailed them to us.) After several such episodes, our homeowners insurance would not renew the rider I had taken out after the “nut incident.”

We laugh now, but that does not diminish the seriousness of hearing impairment. According to my husband, “Only the person who cannot hear can truly realize how quickly it cuts one off from the mainstream of life.”

Neither a panacea nor a replacement for his “original” ears, the hearing aids still help immensely. I say they have saved his life – and my sanity.

If you or those around you notice you’re having difficulty hearing, be proactive. Follow up with a health care provider and be evaluated by an audiologist to determine the degree of hearing loss. If you need hearing aids, buy from a reputable company. Quality of life will ultimately improve for all around.

Successful communication is an integral thread that weaves the fabric of our relationships. “Can you hear me now?”

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