Next time your wife
About 36 million Americans can't hear as well as they used to, and of those, only 25 percent get treatment, said Larry Engelmann, an Oklahoma City audiologist.
According to a recent study by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, about 23 million older Americans with confirmed hearing loss don't use hearing aids.
“If you look at it on a hierarchy of problems ... it's lower on the health care totem pole because it doesn't hurt,” Engelmann said. “You're not sick with it. You generally don't die from hearing loss.”
Going untreated has consequences, though.
In work situations, people who can't hear clearly may misunderstand instructions, seem confused in meetings and have trouble communicating on the phone.
“People misread you as far as who you really are,” said Engelmann, who operates the Audiology Clinic, 3300 NW 56. “People with hearing loss can be misunderstood as inattentive, having selective hearing, being mad or not very smart and so forth.”
Such misperceptions can cost sufferers raises or promotions, potentially leading to significant
Hearing loss can harm personal relationships, as well. There are gradations of hearing deficits: You may have no problem with one-on-one conversations but have difficulty hearing group discussions. You may be able to hear your husband in a quiet room but find him incomprehensible in a shopping mall.
That's because there's a natural drop-off in hearing acuity over time. This often manifests not as a general hearing loss but as declines in auditory perception of certain frequencies.
A dog whistle, for example, is pitched at a frequency so high that humans cannot hear it. A similar thing happens with hearing loss, Engelmann said. You may hear low frequencies well — typically loud vowel sounds — but have difficulty with high frequencies, the consonant sounds that constitute 20 percent of the volume of human speech but 60 to 80 percent of the clarity.
Such declines are easy to ignore. Sufferers aren't deaf, per se; they just can't clearly hear certain ranges of sound. To compensate, they may lean close into a speaker or take visual clues from watching lips move.
The average patient, Engelmann said, postpones a hearing test for eight years after realizing they have auditory deficits. Sufferers deny they have a problem or blame those around them for not speaking louder. Vanity plays a part, too; people prefer to pretend they have no problem rather than admit that they are aging.
Hearing aids available now are a lot different from the ones your grandparents may have worn.
“They've basically become miniaturized graphic equalizers,” Engelmann said. “We can program them to the shape of a particular person's hearing loss” spanning 17 frequency bands.
“Hearing aids will communicate with each other wirelessly,” he said. “We can link them to Bluetooth phones, TV sets, etc. They come in a lot of different colors, so we can match hair color and skin tones. They're so small nowadays that you can barely see them.”
One obstacle to diagnosis and treatment is the cost. Most insurance companies, Engelmann said, will not pay for exams or hearing aids. Some will pay, he said, but rarely the full amount — and even then, only with a physician's referral.
Modern hearing aids range in price from about $1,500 to $3,500. They last six to eight years.
Postponing treatment could cost you more than money in the long run.
“One of the downsides of not having your hearing corrected is that when a sound goes into the ear, it actually goes into the brain to be processed,” Engelmann said. “If you don't stimulate the entire auditory system, it can deteriorate and become progressive.”
For more information, call Engelmann at 946-0364, or go online to the Hearing Loss Association of America, www.hearing