Friday, November 17, 2017
Health

What to do when your hearing starts to go

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You're in the kitchen and your spouse is in a distant bedroom looking for shoes/car keys/cellphone/whatever. The dishwasher's on, the TV is blaring, the dog is barking and maybe a few kids are playing computer games. Yet the two of you are yelling across the house and over the noise, getting more frustrated because the searching spouse can't understand.

"It's in the laundry room."

Where?

"The laundry room"

Lindsey's room?

"No. The LAUNDRY room!

Does this ever happen in your house?

An estimated 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. It's natural for hearing to decline with age, but many of us hasten its arrival by not protecting our hearing throughout life.

Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common kind and usually is associated with years of living or working around loud noise. But it can also result from a single exposure — a loud concert, a gunshot, a power tool. The damage can be permanent and is almost always preventable.

Some people notice subtle changes in hearing in their 40s. Even more realize it in their 50s.

"That's when denial usually sets in," says licensed hearing aid specialist Eric Reams of Tampa, adding that people usually struggle with hearing difficulties for 10 years before doing anything about it. He says that half of adults in their 70s have some degree of significant hearing loss.

"Even more alarming is that one in five adolescents have evidence of hearing loss," he said, usually from wearing earbuds with the volume turned way up for way too long.

Hearing difficulties or not understanding what's being said are no longer just problems for Grandpa and Grandma. People of all ages can be affected.

And don't worry if you're having trouble picking up what's being said. It doesn't necessarily mean you need a hearing aid. Most of us could benefit by adopting what experts call compensatory strategies — communication skills, ground rules, if you will, that can help everyone in the family and within a circle of friends be more likely to be heard and understood.

"I share compensatory strategies with all my patients and I'm sure to include their families," said Carrie Secor, a doctor of audiology at the Hearing Health Center at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater. "It's frustrating and embarrassing to always have to ask for something to be repeated and for the person who has to repeat it. So, everyone benefits if we can get them all communicating better."

In the spirit of Better Hearing and Speech Month, designated each May by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, here are some strategies for improving communication. Keep in mind that these work best if everyone around you is on board and agrees to use them routinely:

Agree to face-to-face communication only.

Establish the rule that you will only talk when you can see each other. Reams takes that rule a step further and recommends that "you are close enough to shake hands before speaking." Secor also suggests making sure the location is well lit.

Be sure to get the person's attention before speaking.

Touch the other person on the shoulder or arm, say the person's name, make sure he or she is engaged with you and listening before speaking or relaying information.

Speak slowly.

Slow down deliberately and make sure you enunciate if you want to be understood. Chronic mumblers will have to work extra hard on this one.

Advocate for yourself or your loved one.

Get comfortable letting those around you know that you or a loved one has difficulty hearing. Ask the speaker to face you when they talk, to speak slowly and to be sure they have your attention before speaking. Be honest and let people know what helps.

Don't shout.

Volume isn't usually the problem, it's clarity of speech. Most of us lose the ability to hear high-pitched sounds, consonants which give us crisp, clear speech.

Turn your head in the direction of the person you are speaking to.

Teens and adults often have their heads down, buried in a tablet or cellphone. Lift your head up and turn your face toward the person you are speaking to.

Reduce background noise.

In most homes, that means mute the TV before speaking or trying to hear someone. Don't try to hear or talk over running water, appliances, barking dogs and quarreling children. Move to a quieter room. Adding drapes and rugs to a room can help make rooms quieter.

Limit cellphone conversations and tell people why.

A poor signal, a noisy line and background noise can all affect how well you hear. Plus, you don't have the benefit of visual cues, such as lip reading and facial expressions. Don't have critical conversations on cellphones. Also, try a video phone calling app such as FaceTime or Skype, which allow you to see each other while talking. Wear earphones when you take a call. Or try using the speakerphone feature. There are also many hearing-assist products for cellphones available online.

Contact Irene Maher at imaher@tampabay.com.

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