What? A hearing test that you can take over the phone?

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You probably don’t even want to hear this, but if you’re over 48, there’s almost a 50% chance that your hearing isn’t all it should be.

It’s a huge step, however, between wondering what you might be missing out on – and making up for lots of little ways, from unconscious lip reading to turning up the volume on the TV – and actually going to an audiologist to get it. a test.

It can be a daunting process, sitting in a booth with headphones on longer than you thought possible, listening to strange sounds and raising your fingers. Plus, think about the reward you get at the end: more than likely a pair of hearing aids that can cost just as much as a fabulous vacation.

Wouldn’t it be good to know before you take such a leap that your hearing loss is severe enough to be worth it? That, say, if you’re a 59-year-old journalist and your livelihood depends on hearing people well, it’s high time to invest in some job security for your ears.

Well, for the rest of this month, you can take a free 10-minute phone test that might put you at ease – or finally get you started asking for a good audiologist.

Here’s how it works: You dial a toll-free number – (866) 223-7575 – and you’ll be guided through the test. It is better to have an old-fashioned phone with a separate keypad, rather than a cell phone, as you will be entering a lot of numbers.

Once you start, you will hear a pleasant voice reciting three-digit sequences with different levels of background noise. Each time, you will respond by entering the three digits you hear. Or – if you’re like me – the numbers you can’t hear. The instructions are to make your best guess; if you can’t even do it, after a pause you will hear another set of digits.

Once you have tested both ears, you will receive your results.

The National Hearing Test is offered by Communication Disorders Technology, a company formed by researchers at Indiana University with funding from the National Institutes of Health. They developed the phone test based on a test created by the Dutch and widely used in Europe.

They’re making it free this month as a public service, in the hope that a foundation can step in and fund it on a permanent basis – as governments and nonprofits across Europe are currently doing.

“Our experience so far is that people don’t want to pay anything to take the test, but they will if it’s free,” says Charles Watson, professor emeritus of speech and hearing sciences at the Indiana. “The cost of having it available to the entire population would be very modest.”

Watson and his colleagues first heard about the phone test at an international conference in 2008. His first reaction: “Nonsens”.

“Since Alexander Graham Bell, people have been aspiring to test hearing over the phone,” he says. “It never worked, and the reason is that the standard stimulus for a hearing test has always been a pure tone” – which doesn’t convey well over the phone.

American audiologists consider the pure tone test to be the “gold standard,” adds Watson. But Europeans are focusing more on the ability to hear voices in a noisy environment – and it turned out, according to Watson, “that this metric correlates remarkably well with the large-scale test you would take in a clinic.” .

The Indiana team and their Dutch collaborators published a study in 2012 with 90 listeners, comparing the telephone test in English to a full screening. A subsequent test with the Veterans Administration – on more than “1,500 ears,” Watson says – validated these results and was also accepted by the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology.

Watson’s hope is that the national hearing test will encourage people to take that trip from their living room to the audiologist, and finally get help.

“About half of all people with hearing loss in the United States have never had a hearing test,” he says. “Hearing loss can change your quality of life. The sooner it is identified and people do something, the better.”

Turns out I can wait a bit on this. The nice man on the phone told me both of my ears were in normal range – for now.


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