By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
REGION – It is common for people to experience hearing loss as they age. Proper evaluation, diagnosis, and rehabilitation are key to the journey to better hearing. The cost of hearing aids should not deter anyone from investigating the current technology and price tiers available.
Hearing Instrument Specialist and founder of Westborough-based Professional Hearing Healthcare Associates Peter Lee has over 20 years of experience in the field. Trained and licensed by the state of Massachusetts, he has witnessed how life changing the proper intervention to hearing loss can be.
Negative effects of untreated hearing loss
Not treating hearing loss can have negative effects, including depression and anxiety, and has been linked to increased risk of developing dementia and cognitive decline. People may feel disconnected from family and friends.
“Most people think they hear with their ears, but we hear with our brain,” said Lee. “Ears are a conduit.” Although a syllable may be heard, the brain is not receiving the signals it needs to understand what is being said. “If you miss a syllable, you may misunderstand the context of what is being said,” Lee explained.
Lee said the percentage of people with a hearing problem increases with age, especially after age 65. Higher television volumes, increased interference of background noise, missing significant parts of conversations or missing soft speech, like whispering, are typical signs of hearing loss.
Evaluation and treatment
Some hearing issues may be linked to medical conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease so seeking intervention is important. Lee said a common cause for hearing loss is ear wax, but most hearing loss only gets worse and not better. And not all hearing loss is correctable.
Determining when hearing is not in the normal range for certain situations and frequencies is important so the best recommendation can be made. Understanding a patient’s unique hearing needs is part of the evaluation process.
“Our society is not a quiet society,” said Lee. “All those noises interfere with our ability to hear, even as simple as a motor running.”
Lee said that digital hearing aids can be individually manipulated for the patient. “It doesn’t restore hearing back to normal, but you will hear better,” he noted. “In certain situations, it will still be a struggle.”
Better quality of life because of improved hearing is a plus; however, the cost of hearing aids may be a deterrent to some even when needed.
Massachusetts mandates health insurances to have a hearing aid benefit for children with hearing loss up until age 21. The cost of hearing aids is covered by Medicaid and Massachusetts state employees have coverage. Medicare does not cover hearing aids.
Lee acknowledged the financial challenge of obtaining hearing aids. “There are different tiers of hearing technology,” he said. “There is a value set of aids. They don’t need to be $4,000 to $5,000. You can still hear better for less. There is a solution for everybody.”
Taking the first step
It is typical for people to wonder why they waited so long to get them after they made the decision to do so. “It gives us such great enjoyment and satisfaction when someone comes in and leaves happy because they reconnect with the world again,” said Lee.
He does recommend people choose a provider they can trust and one that offers a service component. Hearing aids typically last four to six years and almost all hearing aids are programmable. The settings can often be reprogrammed instead of having to replace the devices. Regular maintenance and service will help provide good years of use.
“It’s a journey to better hearing,” said Lee. “We are a guide and navigate the speed bumps along the way. The provider is the interface to make sure you will be successful.”
Lee currently does free, no pressure hearing screenings in conjunction with local senior centers, including Westborough, Shrewsbury and Northborough. Your primary care physician can check your ears for physical causes of hearing loss and perform a basic hearing test when you have your routine physical. He or she can also refer you to an audiologist if necessary.
The state of Massachusetts has a website with an abundance of helpful information about hearing aids at https://www.mass.gov/service-details/information-for-hearing-aids.
You can also find useful information on the website of the Central Massachusetts chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America: https://hearinglosscentralma.wordpress.com.