MARQUETTE — About one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Aging of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
On Monday, Jacob Sommers, audiologist with Superior Ear Nose and Throat Specialists, gave a presentation on hearing aids at the Peter White Public Library hosted by the Northern Center for Lifelong Learning. He covered several aspects of hearing aids, including the acquisition process, the different styles, and the technology offered with some of them.
“The first step is to accept the fact that you may not hear as well as you used to and to take the first step to having a hearing test,” Sommer said. “It’s okay to take the hearing test and find out if you might need hearing aids. It just means there might be help available for you and you’ve come to the right place.
Making an appointment for a hearing test kicks off the rest of the hearing aid journey process. Hearing testing is a medical evaluation that will help determine how a healthcare professional can help a patient’s specific hearing problem. “It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on without doing a hearing test,” Sommer said.
After the hearing test, and if it is determined that the patient is a likely candidate for a hearing aid, the next step is to obtain medical clearance for hearing aid use. Medical clearance is required by a doctor’s insurance. Once this step has been completed, a consultation is scheduled.
Sommers recommends that the patient bring someone with them to the consultation, such as a spouse or parent, as a second pair of ears to ask questions and provide support. During the consultation, the audiologist and patient will discuss hearing aid options, styles, technology, prices, and answer any questions about them. Insurance is checked at this time to determine what portion of the aids, if any, will be covered. Measurements will be taken and the audiologist will advise on which hearing aids are best for the patient. “There are a lot of different options, and some of them make more sense to people than others, so that’s where my recommendation would come in,” Sommer said. To conclude the consultation, a hearing aid is selected and ordered, and a fitting date is set.
Once the hearing aids are in place, the fitting takes place. They are programmed for patients with hearing loss, ensuring they sound great and are comfortable. The patient will learn how to use them, including putting them on and taking them off. “It takes a bit of practice” Sommers warned.
Once the aids are installed, a 30-day trial period begins. After the first 14 days, the patient returns to the office and has the aids adjusted as needed and speaks with the audiologist about how they work. “Making sure everything goes well for you, the hearing aid user, is the top priority,” Sommer said. At the end of the trial period, the patient determines if the aids will work for them. At this point, trade-ins can be made to try another type or style of hearing aid if the patient is not comfortable with those in the initial trial period. In this case, another trial period would begin for the new type of aid.
Once the trial is complete and the correct aids are chosen, verification measurements are taken. This means that the audiologist will connect the patient to a machine that will take a measurement of the hearing aid’s output at specific frequencies in the patient’s ear. Not all offices take these verification measures, but Sommers does. “We do it because it’s best practice,” Sommer said. Once everything looks and sounds good, the patient is free to go.
The final step in the hearing aid journey is tracking. Sommers said he likes to see his patients every six months to see how things are working for them. In the follow-up, he examines the aids and ensures that they are still functioning as they should, adjusts them if necessary, answers any questions and provides supplies if necessary. A follow-up can be done earlier if necessary.
According to Sommers, the average lifespan of hearing aids is five to seven years, but some people can wear them for ten years or more. Usually, the better a patient takes care of them, the longer they will last.
An audience member asked Sommers how often people who have hearing aids actually wear them. Sommers replied that most people wear them all waking hours. “It’s up to you, you paid for them, you have to wear them as much as you want”, he said. However, he recommended not wearing them in the shower and that most people take them out to go to sleep. He also reminded the public that for those working in construction or other noisy jobs, hearing aids are not hearing protection.
Sommers briefly reviewed the different styles and technologies associated with hearing aids today. “There’s a lot of advanced technology now that hearing aids didn’t have five or even three years ago. There are a lot of different technologies out there that are just a cut above what we used to be,” Sommer said. Some aids even have Android and iPhone Bluetooth connectivity.
A handy new feature for hearing aids are rechargeable batteries, so wearers don’t have to worry about replacing batteries. These aids come with a charging port that the aids fit into to charge. Most aids will maintain an average charge time of around 24 hours before needing to be recharged.
The group that hosted the presentation, the Northern Center for Lifelong Learning, is a self-sustaining, volunteer-run non-profit organization. The group is open to anyone who likes to learn, live new experiences and meet people. NCLL programs and general information are available on their website at: www.nmu.edu/ncll. They also have a Facebook page which they update frequently.
Taylor Johnson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is [email protected]