According to the Center for Hearing and Communication in New York City, one out of every three people over 65 has some degree of hearing loss. Among younger Boomers, the number is nearly 15%. Yet only 16% of doctors routinely test patients' hearing. Also, millions of those who are straining to tune in to the soundtrack of their daily routine either avoid getting help at all or wait many years while their quality of life is progressively more compromised.
Melissa Rodriguez, a Board Certified Hearing Instrument Scientist and the author of "Hear Your Life," finds those facts alarming. "Older adults in particular can become isolated and depressed when they lose the ability to hear well," she says. "Conversations become difficult and people just retreat into their own little worlds." Worse yet, Melissa told us that studies have shown that losing the ability to hear lessens the firing of synapses to the brain and may cause cognitive decline.
So that these sad scenarios don't happen to you or anyone you love, we asked Melissa to explain the causes of hearing loss and offer solutions. Here's what she told us:
Turn Down That iPod!
High decibel sounds damage your auditory nerves, and Melissa stresses that the physical pressure of earbuds makes the problem even worse. "Personal music systems such as the iPod are dangerous if the volume is too high and you listen too long," Melissa warns. "I recommend what I call my 60-60 rule. Keep your volume at 60% of what's available and don't listen for more than 60 minutes at a time."
Loud Music for Exercise Classes Is Literally Deafening.
Melissa notes that adults who sign up for beginning hip hop or even Zumba as an exercise option are at risk if the accompanying music is blasting at above 85 decibels. "My husband owns a dance studio and I constantly monitor the classes and ask the teachers to turn down the volume if necessary," she says.
Lawn mowers and Leaf Blowers Are Very High Decibel.
"Your vacuum cleaner won't hurt your ears, but doing yard work with noisy machines definitely can," Melissa says. "Consider hiring a young person to do the chores for you. The price is worth it when you think about the fact that you'll be saving your hearing."
Multiple Medications Can Be "Ototoxic."
Melissa cautions that if you are taking five or six prescription medications, the combination may be "poisonous" for your ears. "Speak with your physician about this and get a second opinion from a hearing specialist if necessary," she says
Don't Buy "Personal Amplification Systems."
The over-the-counter devices are cheap, going for even as low as $20, but they are not FDA regulated and they can be very bad for your ears. "These products cannot be labeled as 'hearing aids,'" Melissa says. "Many people make the mistake of turning them up too high and this is definitely not safe."
Today's Hearing Aids Are Virtually Invisible.
"Don't let vanity keep you from getting your hearing back!" Melissa urges. "From midlife on, have your hearing tested annually by a professional such as an ENT (eye, ear, nose, throat) physician, an audiologist, or a hearing aid specialist. In her experience, although some people with dexterity issues still prefer larger versions, most Boomers go for the tiny digital devices that tuck behind the ear unnoticed. "They are expensive, in the $500 per ear and up range," Melissa admits. "Also, Medicare does not cover the cost. However, reputable practitioners will work with you to create a manageable payment plan, and you can count on your devices lasting four years or more. They are well worth the investment in an enhanced quality of life."
Finally, Melissa notes that for about 5% of people with hearing loss, corrective surgery is an option. "It's very costly, though," she says. "Some estimates put the operation at $60,000 and it's not covered by most insurance. I think a custom-fitted hearing aid is the best choice. My slogan is 'Hear Better, Live Better,' and I believe that 100%!"
Melissa Rodriguez, Board Certified in Hearing Instrument Sciences, has a private practice, "Hear On Earth Hearing Care Center," in El Paso, Texas. She is the author of "Hear Your Life," (Greenleaf Book Press, May 2012.) Please visit her website at www.hearwithmelissa.com.