Successful Aging: The questions you should ask about hearing loss and the price of hearing aids
Q. I am finally admitting a hearing loss. Given my age of 76, I guess I should not be surprised. After meeting with an audiologist and having a hearing test, he recommended a particular hearing aid which was very pricey. How do I know the information I was given is accurate? Are there some key questions to ask? And – why are restaurants so noisy? H.S.
A. Dear H.S.
You are not alone. The National Institute on Aging reports that about one in three people between 65 and 74 years who have a hearing loss; among those 75 and older it’s one out of two people. And almost half of those older that 75 are reluctant to admit it.
That reluctance is for good reason. Given our society’s sensitivity to aging and preference for youth, wearing a hearing aid may shout, “I am older.” For many, this is okay; for others it’s an admission that creates a fear of being judged because of age and only age.
There is a price to pay for ignoring hearing loss. Older adults who cannot hear well often become depressed, isolating themselves from conversations because they are frustrated or embarrassed about not understanding what is being said. They can mistakenly be perceived as being confused, unresponsive or uncooperative. Untreated hearing loss can get worse. A recent and important report from the National Institute on Aging indicates that hearing loss may impact cognition and increased risk for dementia in older adults. Cognitive abilities that include memory and concentration decline faster in older adults with hearing loss than in older adults with normal hearing. This raises the question for researchers of whether cognitive decline or dementia can be slowed or stopped by correcting hearing loss.
The loss of hearing due to aging is called presbycusis; it is the most common cause of hearing loss and typically occurs gradually. If it occurs suddenly, one might suspect an infection or trauma. Because age-related hearing loss is gradual, it is easy to ignore until it becomes a problem such as sitting next to a person at a dinner party and missing the conversation, having the television blasting as your mate or family member keeps saying “turn down that television” or having to consistently asking others to repeat what they are saying.
Here are some questions consider in meeting with an audiologist with a few possible answers as reference points.
What are your qualifications? Since 2012 a doctorate degree is required from an accredited university graduate program in audiology.
What is my main problem? The most common type of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss. It is permanent and occurs when there is damage to either the tiny hair-like cells of the inner ear or the auditory nerve itself, which prevents or weakens the transfer of nerve signals to the brain.
What is the degree of my hearing loss? The interpretation of an audiogram will help answer this question.
What kind of solution do I need? If a hearing aid is the answer, it is important for the audiologist to tell you which is the most appropriate hearing aid for your hearing loss and lifestyle activity. Not all hearing aids are the same.
How much does a hearing aid cost? This is critical. My advice is to shop around. Prices and accompanying services vary from one audiologist to another and their companies.
What is the aftercare plan? Is that cost built in? Audiology visits, replacements and other services often are part of the aftercare plan built into the original cost for a period of time.
Is there a warranty? Yes, a warranty is typical. Discuss the conditions and read the large and small print.
Does Medicare cover the cost of hearing aids? Unfortunately, no. Medicare will cover the cost of a diagnostic evaluation if referred by a physician. Some states do have Medicaid coverage for hearing aids. See www.hearingloss.org/hearing-help/financial-assistance/medicaid/.
Does my health insurance cover the cost of hearing aids? Sometimes it does. If so, you are fortunate.
And what about those noisy restaurants? The noisy ones typically are not catering to folks in our life stage. When making a reservation, ask about the noise level and indicate you would like to have a conversation.
Thank you H.S. for your good question. And kudos for taking care of your hearing problem. That’s all part of optimal and successful aging.