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Offered by: John Wilson, B.S., BC-HIS Blue Ribbon Hearing & Tinnitus Center

Expectations, perception and reality often don’t align. When I first started researching a career in the hearing healthcare field 15 years ago, I was intrigued by the opportunity to help individuals with hearing loss connect with their family, friends and the world around them. With all the millions of people who had untreated hearing loss, especially among the baby-boomer generation, I figured it would be a great career that would allow me to help others while providing for my family. I expected people would be “knocking down my door” so I could help them hear better.

The reality I experienced when I started seeing patients was different than my expectations. It turned out most people don’t get help with their hearing loss. I was surprised to learn some people with hearing loss don’t want to hear better, while others don’t think they have a hearing problem. Some people do not realize they cannot hear well. Others know they can’t hear well, but are ashamed or embarrassed to admit it, while others just want to wait until it is “bad enough” to get help.

I understand where some of these thoughts come from. Before I became educated in the field of hearing loss, I thought that hearing loss was simply treated by making everything louder and, like many people, equated hearing loss with complete deafness. I did not understand that in most cases, hearing loss impacts different frequencies or tones different degrees. For many people with hearing loss, they may easily hear certain sounds like the low frequencies found in a train horn, but at the same time they have lost hearing in the high frequencies, making it difficult to understand women or children with higher pitched voices. Therefore, most people with hearing loss cannot be helped by simply making everything louder. Different sounds need to be amplified at different levels. Fortunately, today’s hearing devices have up to 24 bands that allow us to make frequency specific amplification changes.

The problem with waiting until it is “bad enough” usually means waiting so long that hearing aids are no longer effective. One critical thing to remember is that the hearing aids are designed and programmed to work with whatever is left of a person’s hearing. That includes the ears AND the brain. When a person has hearing loss that is untreated, the brain shrinks. The good news is, wearing hearing aids slows down the rate of brain shrinkage and cognitive decline. Thankfully, more people than ever are aware of the need to treat hearing loss sooner rather than later. Some hearing aids even have a function that tracks how much
auditory stimulation the brain is receiving.

As always, we recommend to protect the hearing you have by using custom earplugs or muffs when engaging in any loud activity. Also, getting a hearing test is the key first step to finding a baseline to track hearing changes over time. If you are having hearing problems, it can be as simple as earwax blocking the canal, or a sign of a much more serious problem. (When we test hearing, we diligently look for “red flags” that may indicate a more serious health problem.) And finally, individuals with hearing loss, even mild hearing loss, benefit now, and in the future by wearing hearing aids as soon as possible. Remember, wearing hearing aids is not like a crutch that leads to weakness and atrophy. Instead, wearing hearing aids is like a treadmill which helps the ear and brain stay strong and active.