Sam Bauman: New sounds for hearing aid users

Loss of hearing ability seems to go along with aging, according to many studies. About a third of Americans between ages of 65 and 74 have hearing problems, for those older than 85 the figure goes up to 50 percent.

Having hearing loss indicated a 30 to 40 percent accelerated rate of cognitive decline and 24 per cent increased risk for cognitive impairment

This is according to

Hearing loss in older people appears to signal accelerated cognitive decline and impairment in a study of men and women with an average age of 77, reported by JAMA Internal Medicine. Here are some clues to hearing loss:

• Have trouble hearing over the telephone,

• Find it hard to follow conversations when two or more people are talking,

• Need to turn up the TV volume so loud that others complain,

• Have a problem hearing because of background noise,

• Sense that others seem to mumble, or

• Can't understand when women and children speak to you.

As one who has lost hearing due to frequent flights around North Africa in unpressurized aircraft, I've had all of the above. My former wife and sons finally badgered me into having hearing tests and the loss was confirmed. I did what most do when faced with the loss, I investigated modern hearing aids and wound up with a set from Costco ($900 for each ear) that worked well, I felt, although I kept losing one when skiing (taking off the helmet was the cause). I finally checked with the VA in Reno during one of my monthly visits for a blood check.

Another hearing test took place and my loss was confirmed. In a month the VA "loaned" me permanently a new set of aids that fit in the ear, better than my old ones.

I've used them now for several years, happy most of the time, although I did have problems hearing over the phone. I got a caption telephone from a Reno hearing organization, but it never came on line so I gave up on it.

Recently I received an invite from My Hearing Centers to a Ear School at Red's 395. There I found some 25 seniors enjoying a free lunch while Ear School speaker Ryan Bacher lectured on hearing and hearing aids. First, he asked us to listen while he pronounced 10 words, hiding his mouth with his hand, and to write the three- or five-letter words on lines in a form he passed out.

He read them, then spelled them out for us. About a third only got one (me included), another third two or three, but only one got them all.

Bacher explained that he was simply showing two aspects of hearing. One is actually hearing the sounds with the tiny hairs inside the inner ear, that's hearing. The other is something entirely different - understanding. Those are two aspects of hearing loss.

Bacher asked how many seniors in the room had hearing problems; almost all hands went up. How many had hearing aids? Again, most hands went up.

He went on to explain how traditional hearing aids worked - by simple amplification, making sounds louder with some minor modifications depending on the make.

But that means all frequencies are amplified when the user only needs some levels increased. But in the last 24 months technology has stepped in to improve hearing aids.

Thanks to miniaturization, new hearing aids now are literally small computers, able to react to circumstances as needed. Each user has different needs for boosts and the computer adjusts the loudness for each frequency level, or channel as Bacher put it.

No need to boost both high and low sounds, the channel boosts exactly to the user's needs. The computer can do that. It can also automatically analyze hearing situations and turns on the features you need. It can also eliminate sudden, sharp loud noises; with Bluetooth technology connect to mobile phone devices; allow remote control adjusts with a button. The new devices also are rechargeable just like mobile phones.

Bacher also pointed out that those suffering from problems on the phone can be eligible for a free caption phone with a screen that reads out the conversation as it happens. It's free, he noted, because of a tiny tax on every cell phone that goes to pay for the cap/phone.

Bacher introduced Cindy King, Carson City rep of at 313-9170. She can handle requests for hearing exams and requests for Cap/phones.

And incidentally, the day I attended the Bacher lecture, I got a note from Costco discussing the same features of modern hearing aids offered by Costco Hearing Aid Centers in the Carson Store.

• Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.


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