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Do I need hearing aids?

I think I may have hearing loss but am not sure what the next step is. Do I need hearing aids?

All first time hearing aid wearers have asked themselves this very question.

If you're not sure whether you need hearing aids, the first step is to obtain objective data - a comprehensive hearing evaluation. If hearing aids are recommended, ask the professional about the advantages of hearing aids. Consider the environments that you're in, and where you're looking for benefit.

For adults with hearing loss, the first step in seeking treatment is recognizing the problem. Hearing loss has been called an "invisible" health condition as there are no outward physical signs associated with it. It usually occurs gradually, and may be noticed by your close friends and family members before you notice it. With a hearing loss, you don't always know what you missed, because you didn't hear it. Sometimes, things may sound loud enough, but not be clear. At first, you may only have a problem on the telephone, or with television, or only in background noise. You may have the perception that you're hearing fine, if other people would just stop mumbling.

In addition to not noticing the hearing loss, denial can also occur. Denial can take the form of denying the loss altogether, or understating its impact. If you've made statements such as "I hear well enough most of the time" or "My hearing loss is not bothersome to me" you may be minimizing the effect of your hearing loss. Denial is a common reaction to stress. It can help allay fear and frustration while you get the information needed to find productive solutions.

If you're not sure whether you need hearing aids, speak with your family members and close friends to be sure your perception of your hearing problems are in sync with what they're feeling. Sometimes, family members and friends are more affected by your loss than you are, because they have to make accommodations for your hearing loss. They may need to repeat what they say, face you when they speak to you, and in some instances, act as your interpreter when you've missed something. If they feel frustrated or compromised by your loss, you may want to consider that in your decision to seek treatment.

There is research indicating that the "use it or lose it" principle may apply to our ears. Delaying the use of hearing aids, which essentially deprives the ears of auditory stimuli at normal levels, can lead to a degradation of word recognition. In other words, an ear that hasn't been stimulated due to untreated hearing loss loses some of its ability to understand. Fortunately, this same research indicates that this degradation may be reversible in some cases with hearing aids.

The National Council on Aging released a study in 1999 on 2,300 individuals with hearing loss who were over the age of 50. The overall results were "... those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia and were less likely to participate in organized social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids." This same study found that with hearing aid use, improvements were seen in relationships, self-confidence, social life, self-esteem, and many other aspects of people's lives - not just hearing.

Hearing loss tends to get worse gradually. As with most health conditions, earlier diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss usually leads to the most successful outcomes. Since the negative effects of untreated hearing loss are well documented, the benefits of seeking treatment are proven, and hearing aids not only help you hear better but also improve the quality of your life - if you need them, what are you waiting for?

Contributor
Kristi Albers M.A. Managing Editor, Healthy Hearing
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