It is not difficult to identify and correct common vision problems. Many elementary school students know something is wrong when the child sitting at the next table can see what the teacher is writing on the board, but we can’t even if we squint.
I was one of them. Mom dragged me to an optometrist who did an exam and diagnosed myopia (which often starts between the ages of 6 and 14). My problem was soon solved with pink cat eye glasses. Which I hated but wore to school, if not anywhere else. Until hard contact lenses came along. (Followed by gas permeable contact lenses. Then soft contact lenses. And finally cataract surgery, which installed intraocular lenses that eliminated the need for any kind of glasses.)
Hearing problems are more difficult. Children who laugh, startle at loud noises, and appear to be good at recognizing speech may unconsciously develop coping techniques to compensate for the hearing loss that occurs years after birth.
Signs include sometimes hearing normally and sometimes not responding, watching TV or listening to music at high volume, saying “what?”. speak more often, speak loudly, and rely on visual cues by paying close attention when others speak.
An audiologist can help, starting with a basic screening that then moves on to a full evaluation if needed. Treatment may include helping a family communicate better, getting a hearing aid or other assistive device, and using medication or corrective surgery.
What if an adult friend or family member starts showing symptoms of hearing loss, often caused by aging and chronic exposure to loud noises (read: rock music cranked up in small venues)?
Unlike children, adults may be reluctant to admit a problem, especially when they suspect a hearing aid might be the solution. Reasons include self-image and ego (hearing aids are associated with aging, not a popular aspect of American culture), difficulty adapting to technology, knowing someone who has tried hearing aids but found them clunky and unattractive (like my Cat -eye glasses). ), unrealistic expectations (even under the best of circumstances, hearing won’t be the same again), and cost (Original Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids).
To get the most out of hearing correction, see an experienced audiologist, who will use evidence-based techniques to prescribe the ideal balance between sound audibility and sound quality.
“The problem is usually not the hearing aid itself, but the professional responsible for getting the maximum benefit from the devices,” says Dr. Bradley Davis. He is a principal clinician at Medical Hearing Associates of Arkansas, a full-service, evidence-based audiology clinic in Little Rock with a focus on selection, fitting, outcomes and audiological rehabilitation therapy.
“We treat hearing problems using a medical best-practice model that requires specialized tools and techniques to ensure you get the most out of your hearing aids,” he says.
In addition to dispensing and fitting hearing aids, treatment options at Dr. Davis diagnostic assessments, communication assessments based on patients’ lifestyle and needs, live voice mapping (a verification method used to ensure hearing aids are programmed to a set of independently researched targets), ear molds and earplugs for musicians that balance hearing protect across all frequencies, and tinnitus evaluation and management.
A properly selected pair of hearing aids based on lifestyle and budget is the first step in the process, he explains. “There are specific guidelines set by professional organizations such as the American Academy of Audiology, following which will provide the hearing aid wearer with maximum benefit and a better quality of life.”
Unfortunately, he continues, “these techniques are rarely used, and hearing aids are often programmed by having a computer make a ‘best guess’ fit.”
The most common complaint he hears is that a patient’s current hearing aids are not providing enough benefit. The problem is probably not the hearing aids. A more likely weak link in the chain, according to Dr. Davis the audiologist responsible for getting the maximum benefit from the devices.
“I’m the only clinic in Little Rock that I know of that reprograms a patient’s current hearing aids using best practice techniques,” he says. “I have many patients with reprogrammed hearing aids that work much better than the original setup.”
Although his patients are mostly adults, he diagnoses and treats children with hearing problems, from exams to pediatric hearing aids. “The testing and treating of children is similar to that of adults, except you have to make sure everything is done perfectly and much faster,” he says.
In the meantime, according to Healthyhear.com, there are many ways to improve communication with an adult with hearing loss: Face the person and get their attention before you speak. Don’t start speaking from another room. Rephrase what you say. Do not scream. Speak naturally. Reduce background noise. Don’t get frustrated; be understanding. Don’t do all the talking.
Also consider other means of communication such as texting, email, and group chats, especially in noisy environments. This is often a way for teenagers to keep in touch, even when they’re in the same room.
Don’t get angry with loved ones who think they’re not paying attention or ignore you or pretend to hear you when they aren’t, experts say.
Don’t say, “It doesn’t matter” if you’re not being heard. Because it is.
Karen Martin is the editor-in-chief of Perspective.