As I approach 18 years as an audiologist at Advanced Specialty Care, I am noticing a phenomenon. The patient sitting across from my desk frequently looks like me in terms of age. It is more and more common that a patient comes in with a date of birth in the 1970s or 1980s to discuss hearing aids.
Of course, certain types of hearing loss know no age. Over the years I have fit babies with hearing aids, and our practice cares for a fair number of pediatric patients who were either born with hearing loss or developed hearing loss as a result of illness or some other factor.
It is the patients in their 40’s and 50’s that are arriving in greater frequency. The conversations with these folks are remarkably similar. They notice increasing difficulty in naturally hearing family at home or coworkers. They have trouble hearing certain sounds in environments with background noise, often venturing into restaurants or bars and facing challenges in conversation. Many remark that they struggle to hear or understand when speaking to someone with a mask. Teachers are having trouble hearing their students. “My parents wear (or wore) hearing aids. I just want to get checked out. I don’t want to wait as long as they did to get help,” they say.
So we do a hearing test. Sometimes the hearing is normal. Often it is not normal. We might find a mild or moderate high frequency hearing loss: evidence of noise exposure, familial predisposition to hearing loss or even (gasp) age-related hearing loss.
There is an amazing amount of motivation among this age group to pursue hearing aids. Frequently when I start talking about results and disclose to this age group that they do, in fact, have hearing loss in one or both ears, they just nod and smile and say I am confirming their suspicions. They want to pursue hearing aids. They’re ready to move forward.
On occasion there is resistance. Some patients don’t want to see themselves as impaired. Surprisingly it usually is not the stigma of wearing hearing aids or having them visible. We’re all walking around with something in our ears, from Bluetooth devices to AirPods, after all. Sometimes a patient doesn’t feel they are struggling to the severity of the results I am presenting. “How can I have a severe hearing loss? I’m having a little trouble, but it doesn’t feel severe.” This prompts a conversation about processing. A person in their 40s and 50s usually still has fairly good auditory processing. We are able to fill in the blanks. We can use the context of the conversation and the parts of words we do hear to determine the message. But as we age, that processing speed slows down. It is better to start using hearing aids when the processing speed is relatively intact because this makes it easier to acclimate to the sound of hearing aids. Amplified sound takes time to get used to and the younger our brains are, the easier that transition is.
Audiologists often quote the trend that people wait an average of 7 years to pursue hearing aids, but I am curious about how that number is changing. I am seeing highly motivated patients of many ages who want to stay active. And with every year that passes, that patient is looking less like my grandparents and parents and more like a mirror. It might be time for me to hop in the booth and see where my hearing stands.
– Jocelyn Doré, Au.D.
Dr. Jocelyn Doré is a board-certified Audiologist treating adult & pediatric patients in our Danbury & New Milford offices.
ADVANCED SPECIALTY CARE
At Advanced Specialty Care, our Clinical Audiologists do more than ensure you hear well – we focus on your total hearing health. Our affiliation with ASC’s Ear, Nose & Throat specialists ensures a comprehensive approach to healthy hearing. We offer state-of-the-art instrument technology and qualified professionals.