Elder Care: Here Ye, Hear Ye! (Part 1), by Carol Rose

Did you know that hearing loss affects an estimated twenty-seven million Americans age fifty and up, including two-thirds of men and women aged seventy years and older, but only fifteen percent of those sufferers use hearing aids?

And that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than older adults whose hearing is normal?

In a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins, volunteers with hearing loss and normal cognition undergoing repeated cognition tests over six years had cognitive abilities that declined thirty to forty percent faster than in those with normal hearing. Levels of declining brain function were directly related to the amount of hearing loss, the researchers say. On average, older adults with hearing loss developed a significant impairment in their cognitive abilities 3.2 years sooner than those with normal hearing.

I am seventy years of age and have a profound hearing loss.  I am also one of the fortunate fifteen percent mentioned above.

I am a Hearing Technology Resource Specialist, (HTRS), which is a volunteer position with the Hearing Loss Association of Michigan.  We are a group of mostly hard-of-hearing persons with the goal of helping others with the same disability/handicap achieve the best hearing possible for them.

Our goal as HTRS’s is to demonstrate Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT), in order to help those with a hearing loss hear better, make their environment safe, and increase independence.

Possible explanations for the cognitive slide described earlier given by senior study investigator, Johns Hopkins otologist and epidemiologist Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., include the ties between hearing loss and social isolation, with loneliness being well established in previous research as a risk factor for cognitive decline. Degraded hearing may also force the brain to devote too much of its energy to processing sound, and at the expense of energy spent on memory and thinking.

Now I am aware some people choose not to wear a hearing aid out of embarrassment, others because they are not quite ready for them; some because the aid they paid for just doesn’t work or feel right, and many others because they cannot afford the high cost, as most insurance plans do not cover the cost of hearing aids.

But the results of the above study make it even more imperative to HEAR! I know I do not want to be one of the people whose cognitive abilities decrease because I can’t hear.   And it makes me even more devoted to educating other hard-of-hearing people and their families as to possible solutions.

There are many devices on the market to help hard-of-hearing persons function better in their world.  Many of these devices can be used with or without an aid.  High quality headphones and ear buds are available for those without aids.

Start out with a list of your current needs/situation.  Do you have to have the TV or radio on so loud that others complain?  Are you unaware when someone rings the doorbell or knocks on your door? Are you unable to hear the phone ring?  Do you not hear the person on the phone? Are you concerned about hearing devices such as smoke and carbon monoxide alarms?  Or even the alarm clock?

I’ve spent a great deal of my senior life living alone and relying on blinking lights to alert me to some of the above situations.  There are also vibrating wrist watches and a device you can put under your pillow. The latter is sure to wake even the soundest sleeper! While I have chosen systems that make my household lights blink, there are other, more aggressive systems that work with strobe lights.

Please note that as a HTRS, I do NOT sell anything.  I have a list of companies selling Hearing Assistive Technology that I can get to you and I demo products. Below is a written “demo” of some equipment that can make your life easier.

For the TV watcher, there are several devices that can be worn with headphones or ear buds and connected either directly to the sound device via a cord, or wirelessly via infrared or FM.

Many devices meant for TV sound also work for hearing conversations. Two items that enable the hard-of-hearing person to hear conversations, as well as connect to the TV and telephone, are the Williams Sound Pocketalker or Pocketalker PRO and the Comfort Duett, by Comfort Audio, both currently priced under $200.

These are easy-to-use amplifiers, which help eliminate background noise for one-on-one conversations, indoor/outdoor activities, TV or radio listening, restaurants or small groups, or listening in a car.  These products can be used with hearing aids or with headphones or an ear bud.

One alerting system is the Alertmaster ALERT10 Complete Notification System. (I use a sixteen-year-old version of the Alertmaster which still works well and serves my needs.) The current system is affordable, versatile and wireless. Installed in your home, it uses flashing lights and a bed shaker to alert you to the doorbell, telephone, alarm clock, or loud room noises. It plugs into a telephone jack for telephone notification. It has a wireless doorbell button that just mounts outside your door. No wiring is necessary. Plug a lamp into the back of the master unit, and it will flash. Distinct flashing patterns and lighted icons identify each activity. A large lighted button lets you turn the lamp on or off. Turn on the bed shaker for night time alert. Optional accessories even notify you of a crying baby or the presence of an intruder. An optional remote receiver lets you put a lamp signal in another room.

Another alert system is the AC-operated Sidekick table-top receiver, which is equipped with a flashing strobe light and jack for an optional bed vibrator. When the Sidekick receives a signal from a transmitter, the strobe light is activated for fifteen seconds and the bed vibrator, (if connected), is activated.

The Sidekick System is wireless and uses advanced electronics to monitor a wide variety of important household devices. One major benefit is that you may purchase the complete system all at once or build it one transmitter and/or receiver at a time. You can custom configure a system to fit your lifestyle and needs.

There is so much more… items to help you not only hear the phone but also be able to converse on it; Web access to phone calls that you can READ rather than hear; items for those who wear aids and those who don’t.  I’ll be featuring some of these in upcoming issues of Health & Happiness. In the meantime please call or email me with your issues and concerns, (906-494-2041, carolrose.u.p@gmail.com), and I’ll help point you in the right direction.

As you look for Hearing Assistive Technology for yourself or a loved one, check that the company has a thirty-day return policy with no restocking fee.  You might be asked to pay the return postage, but that’s all the expense you should have to incur for trying out their product.

What works for one hard-of-hearing person might not work for another.  Take your time, try out aids or hearing assistive technology, and make sure you have a return policy in place.

Helpful Websites: http://www.hearingloss.org and http://www.hearingloss-mi.org (This site was recently hacked and is being rebuilt – hopefully before this issue of Health & Happiness reaches your hands!)

Carol Rose is a writer, photographer and glass, rust and other found object artist, residing in Grand Marais.  She enjoys skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, biking, canoeing, gardening and driving her ’95 Jeep on back roads. Carol’s determined to maintain her cognitive ability regardless of hearing loss.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Summer 2013 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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