By KATHY MEGYERI
First, it seemed like my husband Les constantly mumbled – and so did the
store clerks, now that you mention it. And could he please turn up the volume on the TV so we could hear the news?
I was struggling to hear, and when I began screaming at people seated next to me at social gatherings, I knew it was time to see an audiologist.
When the practitioner confirmed I had hearing loss, I put my pride and vanity aside and purchased a pair of hearing aids. I had the option of flesh tone or silver, and though I may go for more sparkle in the future, for now, I am more comfortable with something less attention-grabbing.
Granted, they took a couple of months to get used to, periodically need new batteries and adjustments, and are not covered by my Medicare plan.
But I’m sticking with them – and not only because I can hear.
Dr. Frank Lin, Director of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, warns that those with untreated hearing loss have a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia and a 40 percent increased risk of becoming depressed within five years. Untreated hearing loss can also lead to falls (because we may miss ambient sounds) and even cardiovascular diseases due to stress and isolation.
My father was living proof. Disgusted with ill-fitting hearing aids and impatient with changing batteries on a regular basis, he refused to wear them and eventually was cut off from social interactions, became depressed and developed dementia. His brain could no longer process the sounds needed to stimulate cellular activity and to keep his mind cognitively engaged.
Today, 38.2 million Americans aged 12 and older have hearing loss. More than half of us in our 70’s and more than 80 percent of those in their 80’s have moderate to severe hearing loss, some even approaching total deafness.
Even more surprising, according to Lin, 85 percent of those with hearing loss who don’t seek treatment or use their hearing aids regularly will see their health care costs rise significantly. Forgoing treatment leads to an average 46 percent increase in health care costs over ten years, studies show.
Considering such statistics, providing hearing aids for seniors is good preventative medicine and trumps the social, emotional, physical and medical costs of going without.
Are you listening, Medicare?