hearing health

Staying Vital

By Lauren McGrath

My father is an avid concertgoer who turned 61 in February, and I’ve been trying for more than two years—since I joined the team at Hearing Health Foundation (HHF)—to convince him to get his hearing tested.

I do not know whether or not my father has an identifiable hearing loss, but I know that a person of his age should take extra precaution for his ears. The World Health Organization advises: “If you are beyond the age of 60, work in a noisy environment, or have frequent exposure to loud noises, an annual hearing check is recommended.”

Lauren and her father at a music festival in Athens, Georgia.

Lauren and her father at a music festival in Athens, Georgia.

As an adult, I have had my own hearing tested twice, first with an audiologist at the Center for Hearing and Communication in New York City, and later over the phone using an automated system. Though I have never experienced difficulty in conversations or noisy spaces, I appreciated that these non-intrusive tests provided reassurance my hearing falls within the typical range. If a loss was identified, I would have been equipped to seek treatment immediately.

“Hearing tests are quick, easy, and painless, Dad,” I persist, but he’s still adamant about not getting one of his own, despite being generally proactive in other areas of his health. As we now know, ignoring a hearing loss can result in additional serious medical issues affecting the whole body, including cognitive decline and dementia, falls, social isolation, and depression.

With my ongoing support (read: badgering), I expect my father will take my advice in the near future. But most of the U.S. adult population does not have someone in their life checking up on their hearing health unless they are already treating a known hearing condition. 

Because the importance of healthcare is still severely underappreciated, I’m immensely grateful for the “Hear Well. Stay Vital.” campaign. This awareness initiative launched by the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) in early 2019 has as its objective to encourage more people—starting with baby boomers, like my dad—to check their hearing annually and take appropriate action with the results. 

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“Hear Well. Stay Vital.” is centered on the preservation of our passions. The campaign website states: “We all have passions that inspire us, hobbies and interests that energize and make us feel like our true selves. Singing. Tennis. Dancing. Motorcycling, Yoga. Pottery. Hiking. Gardening. Traveling. Socializing. This concept is designed to capture those passions and help people understand that to stay vital and preserve their passion, they need to manage their hearing health. So, get a hearing wellness check annually and stay true to yourself.” 

HIA was largely inspired by a 2016 report by the The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine onHearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability.” One recommendation of this report, to which HHF Board of Directors member Judy Dubno, Ph.D., contributed, calls for improving publicly available information on hearing health. 

“Hearing health and routine hearing checks do not receive the attention directed to other health issues. Many people can cite statistics relative to their unique health, such as height, weight, heart rate, cholesterol, vision and more. But not hearing,” says Kate Carr, president of HIA. 

HHF is a partner in the campaign, along with the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, the American Academy of Audiology, the American Cochlear Implant Alliance, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the Hearing Loss Association of America, and the International Hearing Society.

HIA encouraged a major push during May’s Better Speech and Hearing Month to garner awareness. As of August, PSA videos were distributed to more than 3,000 network stations across the U.S. The PSA videos are in the top 10 percent of more than 1,000 videos tracked by Nielsen. 

“Anyone can join in this effort to improve hearing health,” Carr says. The campaign website hosts videos and a social media guide for free download and distribution. 

I’m hopeful that education will continue to increase and, one day, hearing tests will be perceived as important as dental cleaning and vision checks. 

Music is my dad’s passion. He sees an average of 40 concerts each year (with earplugs, of course), and his CD and record collection totals over 3,000. I want him, and individuals at risk of hearing loss, to preserve their ability to enjoy what they love to the fullest.

For more on the “Hear Well. Stay Vital.” awareness campaign and free shareable resources, see hearwellstayvital.org.

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One Man's Military Perspective

By Colonel John T. Dillard, U.S. Army (Retired)

The top two disabilities for our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing of the ears (which is actually a sound inside the brain). Both conditions became a problem for me and for many of my friends in the service. A lifetime spent in the U.S. Army, starting in the 1970s, meant frequent exposure to gunfire and proximity to screaming jets and helicopter engines.

Even during a peacetime career in the military, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are subject to a barrage of auditory insults from the weapons and equipment they operate. It all stacks up to a gradual, although sometimes very abrupt, loss of hearing, usually starting at the higher frequencies. For those in the service, any age-related decline in hearing gets accelerated, to the extreme, by repeated exposure to noise at unsafe levels.

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For me, tinnitus began faintly and increased with more hearing loss, reaching a crescendo with one big acoustic trauma—a gunshot right next to me in 2009. I immediately began searching for any kind of treatment that would alleviate the loud ringing in my head, which was actually measured in a laboratory at being around a constant 70 decibels. That is roughly equivalent to the noise inside a fairly strong shower, and I soon discovered that people would use long showers to find a bit of relief by masking their tinnitus. (However, I take short showers!)

Armed with a background in biology and technology, I began to review all the research I could find. As it turns out, the typical tinnitus condition consists of several brain components: auditory (hearing it); attentional (your awareness of it); memory (persistence); and emotional (how it affects your mood). After many hours on the web, I spent thousands of dollars on things that didn't work, undergoing treatments in all areas of pharmacology, sound therapy, acupuncture, hyperbaric oxygen, and even transcranial magnetic stimulation.

None of these had any effect for me whatsoever. And despite some incredible recent advances in neuroscience to better understand all of the brain’s complexities, there is still no proven cure or even a viable treatment for tinnitus or to reverse hearing loss.

I eventually realized I would have to tackle my tinnitus with the only things out there that to me were credible for managing tinnitus. I eventually found an audiologist who would fit me with hearing aids that provided a built-in tinnitus masking sound. Without a doubt, this became the best purchase decision of my life...

Continue here to read the full version of "One Man's Military Perspective" in the Fall 2017 issue of Hearing Health. Colonel John T. Dillard, U.S. Army (Retired), resides in Carmel, California, with his wife of 30 years. A senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Dillard spent his army career serving in mechanized and parachute infantry assignments and managing programs to bring new technological capabilities to warfighters. He serves on a consumer review panel of tinnitus treatments for the Department of Defense (DoD)’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs and also conducts acquisition policy research for the DoD.

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Idaho Seniors Receive Hearing Health Resources

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Idaho Senior News, the Gem State's oldest and largest publication for individuals 50+, printed hearing loss resources in its October 2017 edition. Authored by Hearing Health Foundation (HHF)'s Communications and Programs Manager Laura Friedman, the piece educates readers about hearing loss—the third most common health problem in the U.S.—noting that the condition is most common among older adults.

Left untreated in adults, hearing loss can "lead to considerable negative social, psychological, cognitive and health effects and can seriously impact professional and personal life, at times leading to isolation and depression," Laura writes. 

But there is good news. The most common form of hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss, is preventable. "If you are in an environment where you have to shout to be heard, it is probably too loud."

Laura's full article, "Hear, Hear: All About Hearing Loss," is available in this PDF on the Idaho Senior News website on page 19

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