Are You Going Deaf?

Are You Going Deaf?
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My son mutters. He did so as a teen and he never outgrew it. That said, however, he is convinced I am going deaf.

I often ask him to repeat things and I say “Louder” as a matter of course when he speaks. I think it is his muttering, fast New York City speech, and the fact that I am usually thinking of something else when he launches into another of his rapid-fire subjects, but…he may be right.

My mother grew harder of hearing as she grew older and I recently watched my ex-husband (only 10 years older than I am) go as deaf as a post. So it got me thinking about hearing loss after 50 and here I am sharing what I learned.

The most common cause of hearing loss is presbycusis, or hearing loss caused by the aging process. Typically this is largely genetic, but your general health and life experience comes into play. (If you spent your career as a roadie for Led Zepplin, for instance, you may be in trouble.)

Though such hearing loss is different for everyone it affects, the one thing every person suffering from it shares is that the loss comes gradually—so gradually you may not even know it is happening.

We have tiny sensory hair cells in our ears, which lets us hear different pitches or frequencies from very high to very low. We first lose hearing in the high frequencies as we get older, so while we may technically be able to hear, we might miss lots of little sounds or not be able to make out every word. But you might not notice this, as the other frequencies sort of fill in the gaps. It’s a bit like reading a sentence. We may skip over some of the actual words on the page with our eyes, but still get the gist of the sentence.

Like everything else that goes wrong with us, the sooner we get our hearing checked and any hearing loss addressed, the better, but here are signs to check if you might have hearing loss:

You are always saying “What?”: If you can’t hear a mumbling coworker (or son) from 10 feet away, that’s one thing, but if you are asking everybody to repeat themselves, you might not be processing sound correctly.

You misunderstand often: If you hear “Hit the floor” when you are being asked to “Shut the door”, you might find hearing aids help you understand things being said better.

You have trouble hearing kids and women: These two groups speak in a higher voice and it may be those higher frequencies cutting out on you that are causing the problem. A hearing evaluation will target the spotty ones.

You blast the TV’s volume: Is everyone around you complaining the TV’s too loud? This is the thing most noticed by family members about someone who is losing their hearing.

You have trouble hearing on the phone: Have you amped up the volume on your phone? If it is to the max, you may be developing hearing loss.

You struggle with conversations where more than one person is talking: This is a tricky one because another “gift” of getting older is that we lose the ability to process competing and multiple incoming signals as we age. But if you are having a hard time keeping up with the kind of conversation my rowdy Irish family has, where everyone talks over each other, better get your hearing checked.

You are straining yourself to hear: If you find yourself getting headaches or are fatigued at the end of even simple days at work or social activities, it might be caused by straining yourself to hear everyone. Holding such a focus can cause you to be wrung out.

You have trouble hearing in noisy environments: If background noise at your favorite restaurant means you are having trouble hearing your honey, take heart. Today’s hearing aids come with digital noise reduction and directional mics. These reduce the ambient sound around you (including the din of that background noise) and your listening skills will perk right up. You’ll even be able to hear all those sweet nothings from your partner.

You think everyone mumbles: If you get annoyed because everyone around you is muttering, it isn’t them. It might be you. If it feels like your ear is stuffed with cotton, a correctly fitted hearing aid can solve the problem.

Before you make that important appointment with your doctor or hearing specialist, you may want to take this online test, developed by the charity Action on Hearing Loss, to see if you might want to make that call sooner rather than later. Take the test here:

Loss of hearing has been associated with isolation, anxiety and depression, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Hearing loss can be easily identified and treated. There are plenty of options to treat hearing loss, including the one you may be dreading—being fitted for hearing aids. They aren’t like the old days, those ugly over the ear ones you remember. Today’s hearing aids are practically invisible (you don’t see Bill Clinton’s, now do you?)

By the way, my test showed I have no hearing loss. Now let’s see if I can get my kid to stop mumbling.


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