When Barbara Gingo used her new hearing aids for the first time, her eyes welled up with tears. “I’d been missing a lot for a lot of years,” the Meiers Corners resident said.
At noisy gatherings, she couldn’t hear what people were saying and felt lost in conversations. She constantly found herself saying “excuse me” while talking to others and was a self-described nuisance to family members as she constantly asked them to repeat themselves.
The volume on the TV and radio always were turned up too high, and Mrs. Gingo once almost missed a flight because she couldn’t hear the announcement over the airport’s PA system.
“For so long, I haven’t been able to hear as I should,” said the 65-year-old, who estimates she started to experience hearing loss about 10 years back. “It’s been truly life-altering,” she said about being able to hear well again.
For Mrs. Gingo and many others, hearing loss is an invisible disorder that greatly affects their lifestyle and relationships. Around 36 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, yet only one in five people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wears one.
That’s one reason why Melissa K. Rodriguez wrote, “Hear Your Life: Inspiring Stories and Honest Advice for Overcoming Hearing Loss” (Greenleaf Book Group Press).
“Hearing loss develops very, very gradually,” the author said. “It’s something most people don’t notice is happening until it’s at a moderately severe stage.”
Often, Ms. Rodriguez explained, the person with hearing loss goes from being someone who is engaged and enjoys being around people to someone who feels disconnected from loved ones.
They may blame it on friends — convincing themselves and others they don’t like the same activities any more — or may think people are talking about them behind their back since they can’t make out their words. Their loved ones, in turn, may think the person is just getting older and grumpy, Ms. Rodriguez said.
“Since hearing loss is an invisible disease, people around them don’t think it’s happening,” said the owner of the Hear On Earth Hearing Care Center in El Paso, Texas. “It’s very isolating,” she continued. “It can cause depression and a lot of frustration for people. It really starts affecting their relationships regularly.”
If you suspect a relative or family member might be experiencing hearing loss, Ms. Rodriguez advises looking for these signs: Consistently asking people to repeat what they say; turning the TV up too loud; withdrawing or becoming increasingly isolated, and concentrating on people’s mouths when engaged in conversation.
“It’s our responsibility as good hearers to have compassion for those with hearing loss,” she
Dr. Maged Haimed, an audiologist with the Staten Island Hearing Balance Center in Castleton Corners (formerly Todt Hill Audiology), also sees firsthand how hearing loss affects his patients, including Mrs. Gingo. He said they often become withdrawn and isolated and make excuses to avoid noisy places or spend time with friends.
“The majority of patients are in denial,” Dr. Haimed said. “They don’t think their hearing is bad enough to do something or warrant any treatment. At least 40 to 45 percent of my patients come in because they are pressured by other family members,”
The audiologist noted that there is still a stigma associated with hearing loss, with the connotation being it’s a “sign of weakness” and a telltale symptom of aging. But it’s an ailment that, in the majority of cases, can be treated with hearing aids.
The goal of hearing aids, Dr. Haimed explained, is to improve speech intelligibility. “They don’t correct it [hearing loss] 100 percent. It’s not like putting on glasses and your vision is back to 20-20,” he said. “But they do improve hearing and overall quality of life.”
He said the sooner a patient with hearing loss visits his office, the easier it typically is to treat and the more successful the patient will be with the hearing aids. If a person puts off getting a hearing aid for too many years, his or her brain may not be able to process the sound signals it receives from the devices, which is called auditory deprivation.
Dr. Haimed recommends people over the age of 50 get their hearing tested each year. Those with diabetes and a family history also are at a greater risk for hearing loss, as are people who are exposed to loud noises at work or who frequent places where loud music is played.
Anyone worried about clunky, bulky hearing aids is living in the past. Dr. Haimed and Ms. Rodriguez both said advances in the industry have made some models barely visible.
Performance and technology also have improved, with today’s models offering less feedback and devices that provide users with a greater ability to hear while speaking on the phone (including cell phones), watching TV and in crowded places.
Dorine Trivelli is one Staten Islander who says she’s received great satisfaction from her hearing aids. The Castleton Corners resident recalls having problems with her ears as a child, and they worsened as she aged.
Although she realized she wasn’t hearing as well as she could, Mrs. Trivelli didn’t want to get hearing aids right away. As the now 76-year-old continued to get older, however, she started to notice she was missing out.
“If I was out in a crowd, I couldn’t hear everything,” she said. “If a lot of people were talking at the same time, I didn’t get everything.”
Several years back, she was fitted for her first set of hearing aids, and about a year ago started seeing Dr. Haimed, who fitted her for an updated set.
“My quality of life is better. There’s definitely an improvement,” Mrs. Trivelli said, adding, “They are so inconspicuous. People don’t even know you have them unless you tell.”