Did you know that your hearing, or lack thereof, can affect your memory?
People with poor hearing often mistakenly feel that their hearing loss only affects their ability to hear other people. They do not realize that hearing loss has a far greater impact. Over the last ten years there have been numerous studies linking hearing loss to decreased cognitive function and memory loss, when measured over time. One recent study at Johns Hopkins University found that over a ten-year time span, people with hearing loss showed signs of dementia three years sooner, on average, than those people of the same age but without hearing loss. Just think what three years can buy a person in terms of independence! (Archives of Neurology. 2011; 68:214).
A recent study at Johns Hopkins University indicates a correlation between untreated hearing loss and memory loss.
Other significant findings of this study link hearing loss to cognitive decline using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. Researchers found that untreated hearing impairment is associated with brain atrophy, specifically in the temporal lobe of the brain, which is responsible for hearing and processing of auditory information (spoken language). What this means is that people with hearing loss must work harder to hear, and over time that increased hearing effort affects our brain in more ways than we realize. When living with untreated hearing loss, the brain is not receiving enough sound to be adequately stimulated. This causes the brain to shrink, which can result in dementia. (Neuroimage.2014; 90:84-92)
Unfortunately, the costs of dementia are far greater than the costs of treating your hearing loss. If you find yourself or your loved one saying, “I hear what I want to hear” or “my hearing loss isn’t bad enough yet,” this information is very significant and worth serious consideration. Wearing hearing aids to treat your hearing loss will certainly play a role in preserving your cognitive health.
One of the most common causes of hearing loss is earwax, or cerumen, blocking sound from reaching the eardrum. This occurs when the wax is pushed back toward the eardrum or if the ears produce more wax than is needed.
Earwax is a combination of skin cells and oily secretions in the ear canal. It serves to shield, clean, and lubricate the ear. However, if too much wax is pushed back toward the eardrum, hearing loss may occur.
Earwax is also the most common cause of hearing aid malfunctions. A tiny amount of wax can plug the receiver, or speaker, of a hearing aid, preventing sound from coming out. An equally small amount can plug the microphone covers, preventing sound from getting in.
As a hearing aid provider, I spend a lot of time removing wax both from hearing aids and ear canals. It is standard practice in our follow-up care.
So, why do we have earwax? It does have a purpose. It shields our ears from outside invaders and lubricates our ears, just as tears lubricate our eyes. It is also part of a self-cleaning mechanism. As we move our jaw, earwax slowly moves from the eardrum to the ear opening, where it will fall out.
Earwax is a combination of skin cells and secretions from the ceruminous glands in the outer ear canal. It comes in two types – wet and dry. People of Asian descent tend to have dry wax, while people from other regions tend to have wet.
We have all heard the old saying, “don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear.” This is sound advice. Not only can you damage your ear canal or eardrum, but you will most likely push the earwax further in. If excess wax is a problem, it is best to seek professional help, or try one of the over-the-counter wax removal kits sold in the pharmacy section. The latter is only for someone with healthy eardrums, free of tubes or perforations.
Tinnitus is described as any abnormal ear noise and can arise in the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear or the brain. It is not a disorder in and of itself, but rather a symptom and may be perceived as ringing, buzzing or humming. Some people describe it as a “clicking” or “pulsing” sound.
Tinnitus is a “head noise” that has no apparent external source. Some experience it as a buzzing, whistling or ringing sound.
Usually it is a symptom of sensorineural hearing loss, and often the person experiencing it can tune it out, sleep normally and proceed with daily activities. For a person with tinnitus, quiet is the enemy, and one is more likely to notice it while trying to sleep or first thing in the morning. In cases where the tinnitus is clicking or pulsing, it can arise from TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder), multiple sclerosis, blood flow through the carotid artery, as well as vascular tumors.
Tinnitus is listed as a side effect of over 200 medications. Decreasing salt and caffeine intake can help. There are many over-the-counter medications sold for the relief of this head noise, but none have been approved by the FDA and some even have adverse side effects.
For those with bilateral tinnitus related to sensorineural hearing loss, most will notice relief or “masking” from the use of hearing instruments. For severe cases, most hearing instruments have a masking element which can be turned on and used in tinnitus retraining therapy.
In patients who experience tinnitus unrelated to sensorineural hearing loss, a medical referral should be made for diagnosis and management of its effects on daily life, including depression and insomnia.
You have taken, or are planning to take, a wise first step, the investment in hearing instruments. Hearing aids help you to hear sounds which are interpreted by your brain. This brain stimulation is an important part of hearing health. The following aural rehabilitation exercises will allow you to increase brain stimulation and improve your speech discrimination.
Exercises for Better Listening
Reading aloud to your grandchild for 10 minutes a day, an important strategy in aural rehabilitation, can significantly improve your speech understanding.
1. Read out loud 10 minutes a day
One of the easiest and most effective ways to increase your speech understanding is to read out loud 10 minutes each day. Why? Because reading out loud allows you to simultaneously say, hear and see the words you are reading. This process imprints sounds on the brain faster than simply hearing the same words.
Your audience and source of material can vary, so have fun! Read to yourself, your pet, grandchild or others. Follow a daily reading plan, or choose a magazine article, newspaper, book of poetry or pleasure reading. The important thing is to commit to making this a part of every day.
The effectiveness of reading out loud 10 minutes a day is exemplified by one of my patients. An 87-year-old woman was discouraged by not being able to hear her beloved soap operas on television. Speech discrimination tests showed she was understanding only 68 percent of what she heard. She agreed to read out loud to herself every day for six weeks. When she returned just three weeks later, her speech discrimination score had improved 17 percent. She was delighted at the results, being able to correctly understand 85 percent of the words she heard. Her daughter confirmed her mother was faithfully reading out loud ten minutes each day and wasn’t going to stop!
2. Practice in a noisy environment
After six weeks of reading out loud, you may want to add an additional challenge. Turn your radio or television on at a low volume. Continue to read out loud, focusing on what you say, hear and see. This will simulate conversations in more challenging environments. Continue to practice with this soft background noise for four weeks.
3. Converse in an active listening position, being focused and proactive
At this point you have practiced diligently for 10 weeks. You may have noticed an improvement in your ability to understand speech both in quiet and slightly noisy environments. Now you are ready to practice focused conversations with friends and family. For this aural rehabilitation exercise, you must be in the same room as your conversation partner. Sit facing each other approximately five feet apart. Become aware of sounds that could become a distraction and try to tune those sounds out. Focus on the conversation. If you are having trouble understanding the other person, be proactive. Honestly share what you need from them. For example, let them know it would be helpful for you if they spoke just a bit slower or let you know when they are changing subjects. The important points of this experience are to be in a good listening position, focus on the conversation and be proactive.
I hope you will make these aural rehabilitation exercises a permanent part of your hearing health routine. My passion is to help you hear your best and enjoy conversation with everyone you interact with each day.
This past holiday season, children filled out their Christmas lists to send to Santa. Hoverboards and video games topped the lists of many. However, for one special 7-year old in Deerfield Beach, Florida, all she wanted was the gift of better hearing.
Every year, the Starkey HearCare network of hearing care providers holds a special holiday contest. We give the gift of hearing to someone in need of hearing help. We ask that the loved ones, friends and family members of the person who is in need, to write Santa a letter and explain why the gift of hearing should be given to the person in need. Each year we receive submissions from across the United States. This year we received hundreds of requests from the loved ones of those in need.
As you can probably imagine, it is not easy narrowing down hundreds of submissions to just one. In an effort to help all with their hearing loss, we offer a buy one get one free deal to everyone who had a submission. This is a savings of over $2,000!
Each submission is read by a panel at Starkey HearCare. We read every single letter that comes into our mailbox. These letters are touching and moving. This year, one submission stood out.
Kaitlyn Newland was born with a hearing loss. She has needed hearing aids since birth to hear and speak. Her hearing loss has affected her everyday life. According to a submission from her school, Trinity Christian School, “Kaitlyn is struggling in class and at home with ordinary tasks, and would greatly benefit from positive interactions and experiences in her young life.” Several other letters indicated that Kaitlyn’s hearing loss has effected her learning that she has fell so far behind in school that she faced the possibility of being held back.
Kaitlyn has a twin sister. We know how close twins are in life. Kaitlyn had been separated from certain parts of her life due to her hearing loss, we did not want her to be separated from her twin sister in school as well.
Submissions received for Kaitlyn Newland
We received four submissions from her school, aunt, grandmother and family friend urging us to choose Kaitlyn for the gift of better hearing. With her whole life ahead of her and the opportunity to live it to it’s fullest present, we choose Kaitlyn Newland as the recipient of a brand new pair of Audibel A4 hearing aids.
This is the part of the story where one would think everything was going according to plan. We have a 7-year old little girl who struggles with hearing loss that lives just minutes away from our office in Deerfield Beach, FL. Shortly after contacting her family and letting them know the good news, we were informed that Kaitlyn and her family were moving north to Greenville, SC. What was once a 10 minute drive to our office now turned into a three hour trip and over 200 miles to our closest office in Rome, GA.
Not to be deterred, we worked with Kaitlyn’s mother, Christina, and the local office in Rome, GA (Audibel) to work with their schedule to get Kaitlyn the help she so desperately needed. Finally, after weeks of conversation and planning, we were able to visit with Kaitlyn in our Rome, GA office in March of 2017, three months after it was announced she was the winner. In an email from Katilyn’s mom Christina, she wrote “When we went to the hearing center in Rome, GA she was having a pretty bad day since we had to drive at 4:30 am to make the appointment but please know that she is over the moon about getting a new set of hearing aids.”
Christina, Katilyn’s mother, drove Kaitlyn the 200+ miles trip to Rome, GA for appointment number one. With both parties determined to find a solution that would greatly benefit Kaitlyn, a set of brand new Audibel A4 hearing aids were selected by the hearing care provider Charles Scoggins. Charles even customized the hearing aids for Kaitlyn to fit her exact ear canal.
Kaitlyn would have to make the 200 mile trip one more time to get her brand new custom hearing aids. Finally, in early April, Kaitlyn returned to our Rome, GA office to receive her hearing aids. The impact the hearing aids had on Kaitlyn’s life was instant. While she had hearing aids in the past, they were not as technologically advanced as the set she received from Starkey HearCare.
Christina wrote to us in an email after they received the hearing aids:
“The hearing aids have been such a blessing for Kaitlyn. She loves the hearing aids and loves he fact that she can turn them up or down whenever she needs it. They are amazing, the technology is unbelievable and it has completely changed her mood. She is so much more controlled, calm and social. She is not embarrassed to tell people she wears hearing aids anymore. I am overwhelmed with joy, and it brings tears to my eyes to see how different she is now and how this has impacted our lives. I can’t thank you enough for choosing her. Thanks again for caring and for helping Kaitlyn be a normal little girl. We will be forever grateful.”
It’s stories like Kaitlyn’s that drives our hearing care providers across the nation to help more people hear better. The impact that proper hearing can have on someone’s life is priceless. Kaitlyn will now be able to learn at the level she is capable of in her classes. She can experience life in a way she had not had before. She can converse with her twin sister about all things sisters love to talk about. Her mother, Christina, can smile knowing that Kaitlyn is no loner embarrassed about her hearing loss.
We want to extend a special thank you to Kaitlyn, her mother Christina, those who submitted submission’s on Kaitlyn’s behalf, her entire family who accompanied Kaitlyn to the appointment and our local staff in Rome, GA, Charles and Sharon Scoggins. Together, we all made an impact and a different in one little girls life.
Kaitlyn Newland with our hearing care provider Charles Scoggins and office manager Sharon Scoggins in Rome, GA
Katilyn’s first visit
Kaitlyn’s first visit
Custom impression being made for Kaitlyn’s ear canal
Fitting Katilyn with her new hearing aids
The most technologically advanced hearing aid Kaitlyn has ever had.
Does someone you know wear hearing aids but they still sometimes have difficulty understanding what is being said? Hearing aids cannot fix the damage inside the ear, they simply amplify the damaged haircells. So sometimes the person still may misinterpret what is being said. There are things you can do to help the person understand correctly the first time:
Understand that hearing aids do not restore normal hearing. We can do amazing things with hearing aids but they cannot repair the damage to the auditory system.
Remember that just because a person can hear your voice, does not mean they can understand your words. Hearing loss may cause distortion in the way sounds are perceived. “Toothpaste” may sound like “suitcase” even when speech is loud enough.
Speak naturally and with normal expression. People with hearing loss may need things repeated. But when a person with hearing loss isn’t understanding you, your natural instinct may be to raise your voice. Shouting or raising your voice can often make things more distorted. Louder doesn’t mean clearer, it just means loud!
Slow down your rate of speech.
Quiet places will assist communication. Be aware of noises that may be in the listening environment that can effect speech understanding. Things like air conditioners, fans, TVs, water running, restaurant noise, and other people’s conversations can all significantly effect the ease of communication for someone with hearing loss.
Gain someone’s attention before you start a conversation. Address them directly by saying their name before starting a conversation so they have time to focus.
Hearing aids will help you hear conversations at a reasonable distance. Decrease the distance between you and the listener. This is the single most effective way to increase understanding. Speech understanding is significantly decreased beyond 15 feet so do not expect your loved one to understand you when you are in the basement and they are on the 3rd floor! If you can’t see the person’s face, you are probably too far away for effective communication.
If a hard of hearing person needs something repeated, instead of repeating it the exact same way, try rephrasing it. For example:
“We are joining the Smiths for dinner at 6.”
“We are going to the Outback with Joan and Bob for dinner tonight.”
Finally, look directly at the person! Most people with hearing loss use visual cues to fill in where they may misunderstand. The lips, face and body gestures all provide valuable cues and can help fill in for sounds they are not getting.
Congratulations on taking the step to better hearing. Good communication effects everything. The National Council on Aging reports that hearing loss negatively impacts quality of life, personal relationships, communication ability, and it can cause depression. Although no hearing aid can restore your hearing to 100% normal, they have evolved over the years and are quite amazing tiny devices. The following tips will help you get the most out of your new hearing aids.
Tip #1 Wear your hearing aids! Hearing aids cannot help you if they are in your sock drawer. You need to wear them consistently. Hearing aids are made to be worn 12-16 hours a day. Getting use to your new hearing is a process. If your brain is getting an inconsistent signal because you are not wearing the aids on a regular basis, the process of getting use to your hearing aids will be longer and more difficult. It is also important to wear them in all listening situations. Even if you are home alone, and there is no one to talk to, wear your hearing aids! You cannot expect to do well in a challenging noisy situation if you brain is not use to hearing in an easy quiet situation. The exception to this is that you do not want to wear your hearing aids around dangerous noise levels (lawnmower, leaf blower, or snow blower). You cannot reverse hearing loss but you can prevent further damage from noise exposure. When you are using power equipment, take your hearing aids out and use hearing protection.
Tip #2 Things will sound different when you are wearing your hearing aids. This is completely normal, especially in the beginning! Remember that those sounds have always been there, you just haven’t heard them the way you are now. The brain needs time to make sense of what you are hearing. You actually need to retrain your brain to hear with your hearing aids. One of the first things you will notice when you are wearing your hearing aids is that your own voice sounds different. It may sound a bit hollow or louder than what you remember. If you are wearing your hearing aids consistently, your own voice will be one of the first things you adapt to.
Tip #3 Don’t expect to hear everything. Even people with normal hearing need things repeated or may misinterpret what is said from time to time. Hearing aids cannot give you better hearing than people with normal hearing, so have reasonable expectations. It is helpful if you share information about your hearing loss with family and friends. Sometimes family assumes that once you have hearing aids you should hear perfectly … even when you are in the basement and they talking to you from the third floor!
Tip #4 Hearing aids need maintenance. Just like a car, hearing aids need check-ups to be sure they are in good working order and to maintain the best sound quality. Hearing aids should be checked and cleaned every 3-4 months for best performance. An audiological re-evaluation should be done every year to be sure hearing has not changed. If it has, the hearing aids may need to be adjusted or fine tuned to compensate for the change in your hearing. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your hearing care provider. We are here to help!
Hearing aid batteries use zinc-air technology. What is zinc-air technology? As the name implies, zinc-air technology uses oxygen from the atmosphere as an active ingredient. There are some other unique aspects that make zinc-air batteries different from other types of batteries:
Need for a Sticker/Tab
Hearing aid batteries need a tab or sticker to seal the vent holes in the battery and prevent dry out. Do not peel off the paper tab until you are ready to change your battery.
Let the Battery Breathe
This is very important. Once you peel off the paper tab, it is important to let the battery “catch its breath.” As air starts to enter the holes under the paper tab, it activates the battery. We always recommend that you let the battery sit for a full 3-5 minutes before you insert it into your hearing aid and shut the door. That is important because it allows the voltage in the battery to rise and ensures that you will not have start-up problems with the hearing aid.
Use Right Away
Zinc-air batteries are best used right after you peel off the tab. This is because the battery begins to discharge as soon as that tab is removed. It is impossible to stop that discharge from occurring once you have removed the tab. Replacing the paper tab will not stop the battery from draining.
Battery performance, and ultimately hearing aid performance, can be sensitive to the environment. Heat, cold and humidity all can affect the life of your battery.
Keep on the paper tab until ready to use.
Once you peel of the paper tab, let the battery breathe for 3-5 minutes before you close your battery door.
Batteries will slowly drain as soon as you remove the tab even if you are not using your hearing aid.
Knowing what to expect and having realistic expectations from hearing aids can ensure your maximum satisfaction with them. When you first get hearing aids, your brain will take a while to get used to hearing sounds again at the pitches where you have hearing loss. Your brain will also need some time to adjust to the sound quality of your hearing aids. We call this adaptation. Your brain will adapt to your new hearing, although it can several weeks to several months. We want your hearing experience to be positive and happy, and we will work with you during the early days to make your adaptation to wearing hearing aids as easy as possible.
Over time your perception of sound will change, so during the trial period we often need to make tuning adjustments to the hearing aids to account for your brain adapting. This is very normal. By working closely with you we can be sure your hearing aids are adjusted optimally for your individual needs.
Here are some of the things we will ask you to keep in mind when the hearing aids are new:
Things will sound different at first and you need to just give your brain time to adjust to listening to the new sounds your hearing aids pick up. The adaptation period can take anywhere from a few weeks to months.
At first you might think that the sound from your hearing aids is unnatural. Give it time, be patient and persevere. Gradually your hearing nerves and brain will adjust to hearing sound again and over time, your hearing aids will sound more natural.
With hearing aids you should be able to hear many sounds you can’t hear without them, and some of these might take you by surprise. You should notice improved hearing in many listening situations that are important to you.
Hearing aids will help you hear better but they do not restore normal hearing. This is because they are hearing aids not ear replacements.
Wearing hearing aids doesn’t mean you’ll be able to hear every sound in every situation. Remember, even people with normal hearing miss sounds from time to time.
Part of the hearing aid fitting process is tuning your hearing aids to your particular hearing needs. We do this over several appointments with time between each appointment so you can try your aids out in a variety of listening situations
Following a conversation in a noisy restaurant can be a challenge for those who have normal hearing. But when you have hearing loss, the clanging dishes, music, and voices in a large open area can make hearing when dining out nearly impossible. In Zagat’s 2014 America’s Top Restaurants Survey, a noisy restaurant is the #1 complaint from diners, even over bad service. But these 7 tips will help you make your next night out on the town more enjoyable!
If you have a choice between a table or a booth, pick a booth.
Look above you. Are you sitting directly under the air conditioner, fan or music speaker? Loud music is not your friend! If you ask, sometimes the restaurant will agree to turn down the volume of the music if you explain that it is too loud for you to communicate with your dinner guests.
If your hearing aids have directional microphones (two microphones instead of one), put the greatest amount of noise behind you. Directional microphones are designed to reduce sounds from the side and the rear and focus on sounds in front of you. Think of it this way, directional microphones will focus your hearing aids wherever your nose is pointing. So if you are facing into a noisy restaurant, the directional microphones will be focusing on the greatest amount of background noise. That is not good! When your hearing aids have directional microphones, the best spot to sit in is the one that will put room noise behind you.
If you are dining with a larger group, avoid sitting at the ends of the table. It is very difficult to hear from one end to the other so try to sit in the middle. Be realistic. You are not going to hear everyone, so sit next to people you like!
Don’t sit near the kitchen, bar or the hostess area. The ambient noise from these locations will be distracting.
Look at the person who is talking. When you are in a challenging listening situation, like a restaurant, you are going to need to use some visual cues.
Pick your seat! Don’t be afraid to tell the hostess that where you sit will make a difference on how much you enjoy your meal. Calling ahead and telling the hostess where you need to sit will avail a long wait once you get there.