Nearly one out of four Cana­dian adults has some form of hear­ing loss, a con­di­tion that can neg­a­tively im­pact phys­i­cal and emo­tional well-be­ing. So why are we re­luc­tant to talk about it?

Canadian Living - - Contents - TEXT ALEXAN­DRA DON­ALD­SON

We shed light on hear­ing loss and make the case for early in­ter­ven­tion

“Peo­ple would rather get eye­glasses, take med­i­ca­tion, use a walker— any­thing but wear a hear­ing aid. ”

A few years ago, my al­most-daily check-ins with my now–63-year-old mom shifted from phone calls to text mes­sages. At first, I didn’t think much of it; I as­sumed it was for con­ve­nience or be­cause she fi­nally got the hang of her smart­phone. But when I learned she’d been fit­ted for hear­ing aids last win­ter, it dawned on me that our mod­ern method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion might have more to do with the fact that she’d lost 30 per­cent of her hear­ing—a rev­e­la­tion that was news to me.

Per­haps I shouldn’t have been sur­prised. A 2016 Sta­tis­tics Canada sur­vey found that 78 per­cent of adults aged 60 to 79 have some form of hear­ing loss, as do 40 per­cent of adults aged 40 to 59. The kicker? About three-quar­ters of adults with hear­ing loss don’t even know they have a prob­lem. What’s more, it takes seven years, on av­er­age, for af­fected in­di­vid­u­als to seek treat­ment once they re­al­ize they have a prob­lem, says Rex Banks, a Toronto-based au­diol­ogist and direc­tor of hear­ing health care at the Cana­dian Hear­ing So­ci­ety.

A lack of un­der­stand­ing around hear­ing loss is partly to blame. “The def­i­ni­tion is the di­min­ished abil­ity to hear sounds,” says Mae Her­nan­dez, a Vic­to­ria-based au­di­ol­o­gist at Con­nect Hear­ing. An im­pair­ment can be par­tial or slight, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to de­tect, says Her­nan­dez, adding that th­ese milder cases are of­ten down­played as an in­evitabil­ity of ag­ing, rather than a con­di­tion that can be treated and im­proved. There’s also no real in­di­ca­tor of whether you’re at risk. Cer­tainly, age and ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tion can play a role, and noise-in­duced dam­age is some­thing that can be pro­tected against, but hear­ing loss of­ten re­sults from a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors that are hard to iso­late or pin­point.

So how do you know your hear­ing is im­paired? One in­di­ca­tor is dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing speech, par­tic­u­larly in noisy en­vi­ron­ments. “Lower fre­quen­cies let us know some­one is talk­ing to us,” says Banks, “but higher fre­quen­cies bring clar­ity and mean­ing to sound.” Higher fre­quen­cies are the first to fade with hear­ing loss, in­ter­fer­ing with com­mu­ni­ca­tion. You may find your­self ask­ing peo­ple to re­peat them­selves, try­ing to read lips, in­creas­ing the vol­ume on tele­vi­sions and au­dio de­vices or—you guessed it—avoid­ing phone calls.

My mom’s turn­ing point came when she re­al­ized she was read­ing lips and gaug­ing re­ac­tions to de­ter­mine how she should re­spond in work­place con­ver­sa­tions. “I thought, This isn’t right; they could be telling me some­thing hor­ri­ble or some­thing good,” she says. “I can’t avoid col­leagues com­ing into my of­fice to tell me things in con­fi­dence. That’s when I re­al­ized I needed to do some­thing about it.”

Over­whelm­ingly, the best course of ac­tion is a hear­ing aid. “Nine­ty­five per­cent of hear­ing

losses can be solved with a hear­ing aid,” says Banks. And yet, the adop­tion rate is only 20 per­cent. Why? Hear­ing loss is con­sid­ered a prob­lem among “old peo­ple,” so many feel they’re too young for a hear­ing aid. There can also be a sense that the con­di­tion hasn’t pro­gressed enough to war­rant treat­ment; peo­ple tend to wait for hear­ing loss to start con­cretely and neg­a­tively af­fect­ing their day-to-day lives be­fore seek­ing help. (This was true of my mom, who saw warn­ing signs as early as three years ago but didn’t see an au­di­ol­o­gist un­til her abil­ity to un­der­stand and con­nect with her col­leagues was im­pacted.)

De­spite th­ese rea­sons, the low adop­tion rate prob­a­bly has more to do with the neg­a­tive stigma as­so­ci­ated with hear­ing loss. “Peo­ple would rather get eye­glasses, take med­i­ca­tion, use a walker—any­thing but wear a hear­ing aid,” says Banks. This is partly an is­sue of van­ity (un­like glasses, “there’s noth­ing at­trac­tive about a hear­ing aid,” says my mom), but it’s also be­cause peo­ple are afraid of ap­pear­ing old or not in con­trol of their fac­ul­ties. On the con­trary, the poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponses that re­sult from for­go­ing a hear­ing aid are likely to make you seem less in con­trol than the pres­ence of one ever will. Even more trou­bling, an in­abil­ity to ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cate can cause feel­ings of frus­tra­tion, as it dis­rupts the nat­u­ral flow of con­ver­sa­tion. “Clients of­ten re­port that their hear­ing loss is em­bar­rass­ing and iso­lat­ing,” says Her­nan­dez, who notes a link be­tween un­treated hear­ing loss and the de­vel­op­ment of both de­men­tia and de­pres­sion, which can re­sult from reclu­sive be­hav­iour brought on by the con­di­tion and the as­so­ci­ated stigma.

To make mat­ters worse, es­chew­ing a hear­ing aid in the early stages can make

it more dif­fi­cult to adopt one later on. “The longer you de­prive your brain of op­por­tu­ni­ties to sort through dif­fer­ent types of sounds, the harder it will be to get used to wear­ing a hear­ing aid,”

New Pack­ag­ing Same For­mu­la­tion says Banks. “That’s why early in­ter­ven­tion is key.” Re­gard­less of when you start

“I ap­ply Bio-oil ev­ery morn­ing wear­ing one, there’s al­ways a learn­ing

and ev­ery night. I am 26 years old curve. “When I first started wear­ing

and when I was younger, had acne. them, I ab­so­lutely hated it,” says my mom. As She, a like re­sult, other hear­ing-aid I have users, small scars had on to adapt my to cheeks. both hav­ing Since an ob­ject us­ing in Bio-oil, her ear I have all day and no­ticed hear­ing sounds a sig­nif­i­cant that she hadn’t been hear­ing. But the ad­just

dif­fer­ence in their ap­pear­ance. ment pe­riod is tem­po­rary. “The goal is

My scars have faded and are not that, in a pe­riod of three to six months,

as ob­vi­ous as they once were. your brain is ac­cus­tomed to hear­ing sound This again,” has says also Banks. done won­ders for my

The self-con­fi­dence. good news is that hear­ing I aids also find that can make all the dif­fer­ence. “A lot of

Bio-oil is a great makeup re­mover, re­search shows that most peo­ple—more

and it helps to fight the small than 90 per­cent—are re­ally helped by

lines or wrin­kles be­gin­ning to hear­ing aids,” says Banks. “Sat­is­fac­tion is higher form now around than it’s ever my been.” eyes While (eek!). Thank my mom you is for still in such that ac­clima­ti­za­tion a great prod­uct. pe­riod, I am she’s a well cus­tomer on her way to for join­ing life!” the 90 per­cent. “Just the other day,

Tayne Mckin­non a client called me, and I felt OK, so I picked up the phone,” she ex­plains. “And he said, ‘You’re one of the few peo­ple who ac­tu­ally picks up the phone;

® Bio-oil is a spe­cial­ist sk­in­care prod­uct for­mu­lated to help im­prove the

most peo­ple just tell you to text.’ ” She ap­pear­ance of scars, stretch marks and un­even skin tone. Its unique for­mu­la­tion,

pauses thought­fully be­fore adding, which con­tains the break­through in­gre­di­ent Pur­cellin Oil™, is also highly

“I al­most didn’t pick up, but now I feel ef­fec­tive for ag­ing and de­hy­drated skin. For com­pre­hen­sive prod­uct in­for­ma­tion and re­sults of clin­i­cal tri­als, please visit bio-oil.com. Bio-oil is avail­able at

com­fort­able enough that I can.” drug­stores and se­lected re­tail­ers. In­di­vid­ual re­sults will vary.

With a hear­ing aid, the goal is that, in a pe­riod of three to six months, your brain is ac­cus­tomed to hear­ing sound again.

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