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posted: 8/12/2013 6:07 AM

Boomers battle age, work-related hearing loss

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  • As baby boomers age, more people are encountering hearing problems.

    As baby boomers age, more people are encountering hearing problems.

By Rose Russell
Toledo Blade

When baby boomers were coming along -- blasting not only most traditions set by generations before them, but their music too -- they probably didn't think they might some day need hearing aids just to have a casual chat.

Now, with the eldest of the boomers this year turning 67, they are among the millions who need help hearing. And whether playing music too loudly in their younger years has anything to do with their hearing loss now is not as much of an issue as how hearing loss affects one's lifestyle and the cost of hearing aids.

"With an aging population, we see more and more individuals having problems hearing," said ProMedica ENT physician Dr. Allan Rubin. "Usually we see more women because they are more agreeable to seeing a doctor."

The medical term for age-related hearing loss is presbycusis. While that is gradual, research has found that more than a third of those from 65 and 75 have some loss of hearing, and about half of those in the 75-plus age group do.

"We also see hearing loss as a result of secondary noise (coming from) factories, the military," said Rubin

Other environmental factors add to the problem, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that because 22 million people endure dangerous noise levels at work -- annually costing employers $242 million in workman's compensation disability claims. Occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related injury.

But more than age and the environment are responsible for the inability to hear well. Heredity, illness and the side effects of some medications are, too. Some children have hearing impairment at birth; others may develop it later. Rubin said children born with hearing loss once had to learn to lip read. But the cochlear implants make that less necessary.

Illness can cause hearing impairment. Helen Keller became blind and deaf after suffering from an illness as a toddler. And Rubin said conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh lost hearing in both ears. There has been debate as to whether it was connected to his taking prescription pain medication.

Many people with hearing difficulties are uncomfortable socially, but according to the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, some research suggests hearing loss may also increase the risk of falling. Moreover, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine finding reveals that the loss may add to decreasing mental abilities.

In a society getting increasingly older then, it's no surprise hearing-impaired consumers are wooed by those selling hearing aids, often for less than what's recommended by doctors. That can make it tough for consumers whose insurance plans do not pay for the devices, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Even so, audiologist Dr. Randa Mansour-Shousher urges people to have their hearing checked by audiologists. She said that though aids are expensive, they are worth it.

"An audiologist assesses the hearing and determines what type of hearing loss it is," she said. "He does a medical determination and determines if anything else is going on."

There are numerous types of hearing aid technology, which can drive costs. She said that anymore, aids are digital; the newer wireless ones connect to blue tooth technology. Some even adjust to the environment.

"If the phone rings, and you put the phone to one ear and the other ear adjusts," she said. "The nice thing is that you are hearing in both ears."

An audiologist also can assess the way a patient processes sound, which can differ from patient to patient. Audiologists also consider patients' lifestyles to determine the best type of hearing aid.

"Two people may have the same hearing loss but the way the nerve takes that information and sends it to the brain may be different," she said. "We go through different technology and styles and help to select the right type of aid. Consumers must do their homework and have a good relationship with their doctor and audiologist."

There is a trial period for hearing aids.

"I don't know of any other medical device out there that you can try and return within a trial period," she said. "Continued research carries a large portion of the cost. Aids are adjustable and carry a long warranty. Care and visits go into the cost of hearing aids. A lot is built into it. Aids are not cheap; they are an investment."

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