May is Better Hearing Month and a good time to dispel some myths and misunderstandings about the deaf and those with hearing loss.
1. Hearing loss comes with age and there's nothing you can do about it.
False. This may have been true many years ago for some conditions, but with today's advances, nearly 95 percent of people with hearing loss caused by problems with the inner ear can be helped with hearing aids, according to the Better Hearing Institute.
2. A little trouble hearing is normal. But wait until it really gets bad before going to a specialist.
False. The longer you wait, the harder it is to treat hearing loss. That's because the auditory system in the brain stops recognizing sound as your hearing worsens. If you wear hearing aids regularly, your brain can learn to reprogram itself once its auditory system begins getting the proper nerve stimulation.
3. People with hearing loss will understand you better if you speak loudly.
False. I titled my book about hearing loss Shouting Won't Help. It won't. Shouting distorts the mouth and makes lip reading difficult. Speak in a normal tone of voice, look at the listener, and articulate clearly.
4. My primary care doctor will tell me if I need hearing aids and refer me to a specialist.
False, mostly. Studies show that only between 17 and 30 percent of primary care doctors do even a cursory hearing screening, even with elderly patients. Almost none do a full hearing test.
5. Providing a sign-language interpreter is helpful to people with hearing loss.
True, but only to a very small proportion of them. Of the 48 million Americans with hearing loss, only 500,000 use sign language. But because signing is a visual expression of deafness, and because plain old hearing loss is invisible, the perception is that most people who can't hear are sign language users. And they're not.
6. Classes in sign language can be very helpful for those with severe hearing loss.
True, but only in the way that learning the basics of any language is helpful. The truth is, to become fluent in sign language as an adult is very hard work. American Sign Language is a complex structure of images and letters. There is no direct translation of spoken English to signed English. This makes it especially difficult to learn later in life.
7. People with hearing loss can read lips.
True, to some extent. Some of us do it much better than others. Nevertheless, when speaking to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, always make sure they can see your lips.
8. Hearing aids don't work. Better to hold out for a high-tech cochlear implant.
False. Hearing aids work well for most people with moderate to severe hearing loss, and they are considered far more effective than a cochlear implant for these people. Experts recommend a cochlear implant only when hearing aids are no longer effective. If you're holding off on getting a hearing aid thinking you'll simply jump to a cochlear implant when necessary, don't do it. The longer you delay getting your hearing treated, the harder it is to correct.
9. Hearing loss is most common in the elderly.
Wrong again. Hearing loss is most visible in the elderly because this is the group most likely to have severe hearing loss and to wear a visible hearing aid. But 65 percent of those with hearing loss are under the age of 65, and 60 percent are still in school or in the workplace.
10. The only way to treat hearing loss is with a hearing aid or cochlear implant.
False. A hearing aid may be effective, but it's expensive, averaging $2,400. For some people a $300 consumer electronics device called a PSAP (personal sound amplification program) sold over the counter may be sufficient. If your hearing worsens, you can then move on to a hearing aid.
11. If hearing aids are needed, my insurance will cover it, right?
Unfortunately, no. Some insurers are beginning to include hearing coverage in their plans, but the majority of private and company-sponsored plans do not cover hearing aids for adults, nor do most state Medicaid programs or the Affordable Care Act.
12. Medicare understands the challenge that hearing loss poses to healthy aging and pays for tests and devices.
Hahaha. So wrong. By statute — which would have to be changed by Congress — Medicare does not cover hearing aids or services related to them.