My husband suffers from hearing loss as a result of a tour in Vietnam. I recently read the witty and candid memoir of Gerald Shea entitled, “Song Without Words.” I was touched by his honest description of living life as a partially deaf man. Almost 30 million people in America are partially deaf. I had the opportunity to recently speak with Andrea Boidman, the Executive Director of the esteemed Hearing Health Foundation in New York City with notable boomer supporters such as Cyndi Lauper. I discussed hearing loss, prevention and research with Andrea in accordance with Better Hearing and Speech Month in May.
Preventing Hearing Loss
To prevent hearing loss, Andrea recommended avoiding toxic noise levels such as a loud jackhammer in the street. She advises people to “walk, block and turn.” Covering your ears and walking away from the noise makes a difference. Andrea stated the average rock concert is 120 decibels and an MP3 player is 105 decibels. People should not listen to noise at this decibel for more than 15 minutes of they could experience hearing loss. The loudest noise level we should tolerate is 85 decibels.
Detecting Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can impact the volume people hear and may cause them to become uncommunicative. They could also hear distorted buzzing rather than regular sounds. It is important to face someone with hearing loss so they can hear you or read your lips. It can also help to speak a bit louder to people with hearing loss. Caregivers can detect hearing loss when someone listens to the television louder or accuses everyone else of mumbling. Andrea said people with hearing loss could respond inappropriately to conversation and have trouble hearing on the telephone. She said people with hearing loss might isolate themselves, feeling it is “a chore to communicate.” Undetected hearing loss can lead to depression and isolation. If you suspect a loved one has hearing loss, encourage them to get tested and help them re-engage with the community.
Military Hearing Loss
Andrea let me know 60% of the military members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience hearing loss. Many of them hear buzzing, especially when there are loud sounds. This is referred to as tinnitus. While it is currently incurable, there are treatments available to help people with tinnitus. The Hearing Health Foundation is currently conducting research that could result in a cure for this and other types of hearing loss.
Hearing Health Foundation Research
The Hearing Health Foundation is at the center of fascinating research that could result in a cure for hearing loss. The Hearing Restoration Project focuses on tiny cells called hair cells located in the inner ears of mammals and birds. These cells are necessary for normal hearing and look like the hairs on your head. They convert sound information into signals that are send to your brain. Once these hair cells die in humans and other mammals, hearing loss is permanent. In the late 1980s, research work funded by the Hearing Health Foundation lead to an exciting discovery. The hair cells in chickens grow back, even after they are deliberately destroyed. Researchers are studying ways to stimulate regeneration in humans and a cure could be as close as a decade away. The Hearing Health Foundation helps to fund such research projects and offers grants to students to encourage ongoing research dedicated to a cure for hearing loss.
Recently during a research project, the researchers were able to regenerate hair cells in neonatal mice. These type of findings are shared with colleagues with the common goals of finding a cure. This year the Hearing Health Foundation raised $1 million and their goal is to raise $5 million. Since 1958, the Hearing Health Foundation has offered the Merging Research Grants program. Student researchers can get a grant of $25,000 to fuel their research projects.
Options for Hearing Loss
Denial gets in the way of progress when it comes to hearing loss. There are options to help people who suffer with hearing loss such as assistant listening devices for telephones and televisions. Hearings aids are now discreet and people cannot even tell you are wearing them. Andrea stated some people with hearing loss choose hearing aids that are “bright” to wear as an accessory. It is essential to detect and treat hearing loss in its early stages. Studies have shown a link between hearing loss and dementia, depression and isolation.
Hearing Loss Advice for Boomers
Andrea recommends boomers get their hearing checked regularly. If you are a caregiver, look for signs of hearing loss in your loved one. Protect yourself from hearing loss through the “walk, block and turn” method or use ear plugs. Monitor decibels to avoid excessively loud noise. You can get an easy app on your iPod or smart phone that acts as a decibel meter wherever you go. This is an excellent way to ask people in public places to turn down loud music in restaurants and other venues. The app will prove the noise is too loud. It is an excellent tool to open up the lines of communication about loud noise. If boomers don’t have a smart phone or iPod, they can purchase a portable decibel meter for about $50 from sites such as Amazon.com. These are also great to remind children and teens about turning down the noise.
Hearing Loss Advice for Youth
Parents and grandparents should make sure their kids get tested for hearing loss. Recently 20% of New York City kids failed their hearing screening. Some of these situations were due to ear infections or wax. However, other children did have hearing loss. Signs your child could have hearing loss include speech problems and difficulty communicating. They might appear to be ignoring people when they cannot hear. Andrea recommends reading the Hearing Health Foundation’s award-winning magazine to find out more about hearing milestones for children and other issues related to hearing loss.
Only 16% of physicians routinely check for hearing loss. Take the Hearing Health Foundation pledge to have your hearing or the hearing of a loved one tested. With your pledge, $1 will be donated to the Hearing Health Foundation to fuel their research. You may also find out you have hearing loss. The average person has trouble hearing for 7 to 10 years before the problem is detected. Gerald Shea discovered his hearing loss halfway through life. Get tested today to learn more about your hearing health and take control of your well-being.