Color & Control:

Can You Hear Us?

An interview with audiologist, Shira Miller

By Irene Galea

Why is it so important to maintain hearing health? Aside from the obvious safety and quality-of-life issues, recent research has shown that untreated hearing loss is a major risk factor in the development of dementia, is associated with higher rates of other chronic issues such as depression, and can contribute to social isolation and a greater risk of falling. In addition, caregivers or medical practitioners might incorrectly assume that someone has cognitive issues when, in reality, they’re just having difficulty hearing.

We asked audiologist Shira Miller five important questions about hearing loss.

Q. Can someone self-diagnose their hearing loss?

A. Age-related hearing loss tends to happen very, very gradually. People often learn to compensate by using their “good ear” or leaning in. We are usually poor judges of our own ability to hear, because we truly forget what it’s like to hear properly.

Q. Are treatments available?

A. Roughly 10 per cent of hearing loss issues can be treated medically for example, hearing loss because of wax in the ear, an ear infection or one of a few ear diseases. In these cases, there are certain surgical options. But for the other 90 per cent of people, the treatment is simply the use of hearing aids.

Q. What signs indicate hearing loss?

A. You might notice that an older adult is not responding to questions, constantly requesting repetition or cupping their hands behind their ears to try and catch what’s being said. The listener may get annoyed because other people sound like they’re always mumbling. Another indication is having the sound turned overly high on the television or radio.

Q. Is financial assistance available for hearing aids?

A. Entry-level hearing aids cost anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500, with higher-end models priced upwards of $3,000. Provincial health plans may offer some assistance anyone in Ontario, for example, is eligible for a grant of $500 per ear (you can find province-specific information at chhaca). Often, insurance plans or other agencies will contribute and, if the hearing loss is due to workplace noise exposure, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board provides coverage.

Q. What advice would you give to caregivers?

A. First, don’t assume that your loved one’s hearing has been checked. Second, don’t yell. Rather, speak slowly and clearly while facing the person your comments are directed at. If your loved one can’t hear you, try to rephrase what you’re saying they may be having difficulty hearing a particular word or frequency. Third, and perhaps most importantly is to suggest that older adults have their hearing tested annually.

Irene Galea is pursuing a bachelor of journalism at Carleton University. In her spare time, Irene enjoys blogging, being outside and having interesting conversations with strangers.

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