By Jim Lemonds
Editor: Jim Lemonds has written this very insightful article on how hearing loss affects people, and on some of the things we can do to reduce the impact of hearing loss. Jim is a freelance writer and editor located in Castle Rock, Washington. His website is accessible at www.writeteknorthwest.com.
This article is reprinted with Jim’s kind permission.
Frustrated by her husband’s lack of responsiveness and his unwillingness to admit that he had a hearing problem, Diane Moskowitz opted for a creative solution.
“One night, she asked me how I was going to know when she wanted to have sex if I didn’t have a hearing aid,” recalls Rick Seifert, a former Daily News reporter.
“I said, ‘Why would I need a hand grenade to know when you want to have sex?”
Shortly thereafter, Rick purchased a hearing aid.
Unfortunately, not everyone takes action.
Local residents beset by hearing loss
According to Dr. Richard Carmen, author of “Hearing Loss & Hearing Aids,” approximately 30 million Americans suffer from significant hearing loss. Yet only 20 percent seek treatment. Dr. Chris Moor, an audiologist at Ear, Nose & Throat Clinic of the Northwest in Longview, says there are many causes of hearing loss, including childhood diseases, repeated ear infections, and exposure to machinery or loud music.
Dwight Nelson, owner of Beltone dealerships in Kelso and Vancouver, said that Cowlitz County has a high incidence of work-related hearing problems. “People who worked in the mills or in logging often have a big loss in their higher frequencies.”
But the most common cause of hearing impairment is caused by presbycusis — age-related loss.
“With so many baby boomers getting older, cases of presbycusis are on the rise,” Moor said. “Nerves degenerate or cells in the cochlea stop doing their job. Things stiffen up in the inner ear.”
The ability to comprehend speech is one of the first casualties. “It’s not an inability to hear that’s the problem,” Nelson said. “It’s your ability to understand what you hear.
“High frequencies are impacted most noticeably,” Moor said. Consonants, which are carried by those high frequencies, convey 80 percent of the meaning of language, so when they aren’t heard clearly, impairment can be severe.
Moor’s job is to conduct testing, assess problems, and prescribe hearing aids when necessary. However, he recommends that people see an ear, nose, and throat specialist before they purchase hearing equipment to determine if an existing medical condition might be interfering with hearing.
Hearing loss equals anxiety, isolation
The stigma that accompanies hearing loss deters people from seeking help. A study conducted by the National Council on Aging found that people with hearing problems are more likely to experience increased insecurity, anxiety, frustration, anger, and depression.
“You worry that if people don’t know you’re deaf, they’ll think you’re not all there,” Rick Seifert said. Often, people with hearing loss find themselves avoiding social situations because of the potential embarrassment.
“Hearing loss isolates you,” said Dr. Jeff Davis, an otolaryngologist at Ear, Nose, & Throat Clinic of the Northwest. “It’s much easier to function if other people understand your handicap.”
The majority of those with hearing loss would benefit from wearing hearing aids. But because of the stigma attached to disabilities, many refuse to let others know of their situation.
They’d rather endure in silence.
“You close in on yourself,” said Seifert, who acknowledged that his hearing problems created tension at home. “Diane had been complaining about it for some time. When I didn’t hear something she said, she’d wonder if it was selective. It can cause a lot of stress.”
Davis said some people “put off dealing with the problem for years because hearing loss is seen as an ‘aging disability.’ They usually have to be motivated by someone — a spouse who is tired of the situation” or problems on the job.
Seifert, now 62, said his wife’s frustration and his problems at work finally pushed him to address the problem. A journalism instructor at the University of Portland, he discovered he could not hear some of his students.
“I realized that I couldn’t hear the women who were in the back of the lecture hall,” he said. “I told them that they needed to speak up, but even that didn’t help. I had to walk to the back of the room to understand what they were saying.”