HEARING LOSS, DEMENTIA, AND ASSISTED LIVING

Over the past few years, several studies have shown a possible link between hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia.

Though an increased risk “does not mean a person is going to develop dementia,” the correlation between the two is strong enough to convince people over the age of 60 that hearing health should be a primary concern.

The problem facing audiologists, however, is that many older, at-risk individuals may have trouble getting regular checkups. They may not even know about hearing technology that would help them better hear in noise in the first place. This is especially true for residents of assisted living facilities.

Though these facilities are required by law to “provide appropriate, effective, quality health care services,” sometimes they don’t do as much as they should. Other times, despite doing everything possible, the residents are faced with personal difficulties in exploring or benefiting from all the different options they do have.

According to Oticon, the risk of cognitive decline can come from the lack of social interaction those hard of hearing often experience. And not only that, hearing better improves communication, which is an important – and often challenging – part of growing older. The more clearly someone can understand, the easier it is for any physician, caretaker, or family member to help with problems.

For these reasons, REM is committed to outpatient care. Receiving a hearing test, improving communication, and fighting dementia and cognitive decline are rights everyone has. Sometimes you just have to bring it to them.

CONSUMER RESOURCES FOR NEW TECHNOLOGY

Over the past couple of months we’ve written a lot about new hearing healthcare technology. We’ve discussed localization technologyPhonak technologyHypersound, and more. And though we’ll be returning to new and upcoming technology over the coming months, we want to provide you with a list a resources you can explore on your own. There’s a lot of exciting new technology out there, more than we could ever explain.

1. Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

This is a great resource for individuals, families, and professionals. It’s a pretty encompassing site. Their assistive technology page is a good place to look for general overviews and specific products.

2. Healthy Hearing

Another great overview site. Their free consumer guides cover everything from hearing aids to assistive listening devices.

3. Manufacturer + Company Websites

A good place to look for new technology is directly on the manufacturer’s website.

Phonak and Oticon have great accessory pages, in addition to their hearing aid pages. Companies like Starkey and Widex have in depth pages for their hearing aid products.

4. National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders

Hearing loss health resource where you can find news and up to date info on the latest. This is also a good site if you want to know your rights.

5. The ASHA Leader

Though geared more towards professionals, the ASHA leader is a good place to learn what’s going on in the hearing healthcare world.

Monthly publication, but their blog is a good place to stay updated. You can even sort it through different keywords (such as “technology”).

There are a lot of resources on the internet you can look into, and though it can be difficult to know which one(s) to trust or listen to, these sites should get you started.

SPRING AND WELLNESS

Winter is almost over, and with spring right around the corner, it’s time to make healthy hearing a priority.

Springtime Hearing

Here at REM, we call this our Good Weather Resolution. It’s also the time we really start talking up wellness and our Wellness Program.

We wrote earlier about how healthy hearing can affect your heart. This is just one small piece. Taking care of your ears can be the first step to taking care of your body as a whole (especially your brain, to which your hearing is inextricably linked).

How can you determine your wellness?

You can take Healthfinder.gov’s “Everyday Healthy Living Quiz”.

Or if you want something more hearing specific: “Do You Need a Hearing Test?

Spring time is a new time, and time to do something to help your health.

BETTER SPEECH AND HEARING MONTH

May is better speech and hearing month!

According to the American speech language hearing association: “Each May, Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) provides an opportunity to raise awareness about communication disorders and role of ASHA members in providing life-altering treatment.”

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What happens in May?

Though Better Speech and Hearing month is mainly an awareness campaign, May might also be the best time to get your hearing tested.

During May, the hearing care industry encourages American citizens to get screened for hearing loss,” says Beltone.

How can you help?

If you have a hearing loss or speech issue, or know someone who does, the most important way you can help is by learning all you can. That’s what this month is about.

For practitioners, ASHA also has some ideas:

1. Reach out to the media
2. Try to organize a state advocacy day
3. Visit schools and discuss communication with kids.

For everyone else:

1. Understand that “most hearing loss and other communication disorders are treatable,” and help spread that knowledge.

2. Find any campaigns that you can help promote, especially in education environments. The American Speech Language Hearing Association’s Listen To Your Buds is one good example of a worthwhile campaign.

DECIBELS: DANGER AND KNOWLEDGE

Decibels are the unit used in measuring the level of sound, but they’re also used as a shorthand for environmental noise.

How loud is too loud?

As we wrote in our Make Listening Safe in School blog, 85 decibels in an 8 hour time span leads to hearing loss, and the louder the sound gets, the amount of safe exposure time will decrease. 90 decibels in 4 hours can cause damage, as can 95 in 2 hours, 100 in hour, 2015 in 30 minutes and so on.

To put a name to the numbers, normal conversation or the dishwasher running could measure about 60 dB, while other appliances (lawnmowers, power tools) can reach about 90 – 100 dB. Music – played loudly through headphones – can reach 100 dB.

Everyday Life

Prolonged exposure of everyday noise can cause hearing loss, especially for those who continually play their music too loud, go to a lot of concerts, or do a lot of yard work without the proper hearing protection.

Others, who’s job may require them to be around loud noises (such as heavy machinery or airplanes), are often at an even increased risk, since they aren’t able to of limit their presence around loud, continuous noise.

For both groups though, steps can be taken to prevent hearing loss. If you CAN limit your exposure, steps should be taken to do so. Take breaks between loud noises, if possible. If you listen to a lot of music, try not to go above the 50 percent volume mark. For those who use headphones to drown out ambient noise, noise cancelling headphones can often help at a much lower volume.

If you work around loud noises, earplugs are a must. Over the counter varieties that expand in your ear canal or even custom made earplugs will save you a lot of money and time down the road, not to mention your hearing.

Further Resources

If you’re interested in noise canceling headphones, you can always compare brands and ratings at reviews.com

PHILADELPHIA SUMMER ACTIVITIES FOR THE HARD OF HEARING

Summertime is outdoor time! Make hearing enjoyable!

The Mann Music Center, Philadelphia’s famous outdoor concert venue located in Fairmount Park, is a great place to go for a night out, and with their free F.M. sound enhancement assistive listening devices, a very accessible place for anyone who might be hard of hearing. Though calling ahead is recommended, no reservations are required, and without any hassle, a patron will be given a personal receiver after speaking to a member of the usher staff.

A little farther away from home, Valley Forge and Gettysburg offer relatively quick and easy ways to learn about the sites. Though certain guided tours might not have any assisted listening devices (it really depends on the tour and who is running it – it never hurts to ask!), the Valley Forge park service has self guided call phone tours while Gettysburg has something similar with their CD tour. Both of these, paired with a personal hearing aid or device, can offer you or your family a personal history lesson. The NPS Valley Forge website also mentions closed captions for the visitor center film and the possibility of assisted listening devices for use on demand.

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Self guided audio tours are the new museums, and Philadelphia’s new Museum Without Walls: AUDIO, seems tailor made for those who may have difficulty hearing in noise:

Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO is a multi-platform, interactive audio tour, designed to allow locals and visitors alike to experience Philadelphia’s extensive collection of public art and outdoor sculpture along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Kelly Drive. This innovative program invites passersby to stop, look, listen and see this city’s public art in a new way. Discover the untold histories of the 51 outdoor sculptures at 35 stops through these professionally produced three-minute interpretive audio segments. The many narratives have been spoken by more than 100 individuals, all with personal connections to the pieces of art.”

Their website is easy to use, and offers a variety of options.

The Constitutional Walking Tour is a similar personal audio tour experience.

By downloading an app to their smartphone, a hearing aid user should be able to stream self guided and mobile device tours to their hearing aids by using the hearing aids’ streaming capabilities.

HYPERSOUND

A few months ago, REM Audiology installed several HyperSound systems in our offices. HyperSound is an exciting new sound amplification technology that uses ultrasound waves and special, directional speakers to send focused sound to the listener. It’s a new way to experience sound from your home entertainment system.

Patients are encouraged to come in and try this exciting new technology. In our Voorhees office listening room (a dedicated room designed to feel like a home living room), you can experience firsthand what it’s like to hear the tv as if it were right inside your ears.

According to hypersound.com, “HyperSound’s audio travels in a focused direction along a narrow beam, unlike typical point source loudspeakers that emit sound waves in all directions.” This produces an immersive effect, and is “…almost like wearing headphones.”

“The product, a controller module and a pair of thin-filmed reflecting speakers can be used with standard TV speakers or a home theater setup,” writes Mike Snider in USA Today. And “…you don’t even hear the HyperSound unless you are sitting in that spot.”

HyperSound Clear can be experienced and appreciated by anybody, but the benefits for those hard of hearing are immense.

It’s the perfect solution for people who feel they are not quite ready for hearing aids but express difficulty understanding dialogue on their television. The benefits from HyperSound Clear can absolutely be experienced without hearing aids.

But HyperSound can absolutely be used in conjunction with existing hearing technology. For those with profound hearing loss, this might be the most effective solution. Rodney Schutt, former president of Widex and the current GM of Turtle Beach / Hypersound, says:

“We have an incredible gateway product. The product works masterfully with hearing aids. People with severe hearing losses approaching profound still struggle with all the other solutions available with hearing aids to be able to watch TV. Most of them will tell you that they still have to use the closed captions. It’s a beautiful solution to marry those hearing aid wearers with HyperSound.”

Mashable writes, “the audio coming out of your TV feels lie it’s playing right inside your ears. Dialogue reminds crisp and clear, even as ambient noise rises up in the background.”

We at REM Audiology are really excited about this product, and we urge anyone who might be interested to come in and try it out free of charge. Let’s bring listening back to the living room!

CAPTIONCALL TELEPHONE SYSTEMS

Last week we talked about Hypersound, this week we want to talk about another important piece of technology for the hard of hearing: Caption Call.

CaptionCall is a technologically advanced telephone, one that has voice to text capabilities, large font display, customizable audio, and a visual ringer. With an internet connection, the phone also updates automatically, without your having to do anything.

How CaptionCall works is easy. The phone does most of the work. When a CaptionCall phone receives or dials out a call, a service center automatically receives and transcribes the voice for the user with hearing loss. The calls are transcribed by a real person, so error is limited. Your information and phone calls are also secure. All transmissions are encrypted and FCC regulated.

REM has CaptionCall phones to try out in office. They are hearing aid compatible, and strongly recommended for people who find themselves struggling to listen and comprehend over the phone.

TBI AND TINNITUS

According to a new article published in the ASHA Leader about tinnitus, although 10 – 15 percent of the global population is afflicted by ringing or buzzing in the ears, only about “…3 to 5 percent suffer enough to seek medical attention.”

People respond differently to tinnitus, and its effects vary greatly from person to person. Those sometimes more likely to seek out solutions or medical attention, often see their tinnitus connected to another injury or illness. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), for instance. And though that’s not always the case (“A persons’s reaction to tinnitus dictates how well they can manage or get used to its presence,” says ASHA), the effects of a concussion or external injury can often alter the brain’s response and body system interactions.

“In post-TBI tinnitus, it may be more difficult for the brain to desensitize itself to the auditory symptoms because of the reorganization occurring within the central nervous system. Many people with TBI report a new and heightened awareness of ’noise’”.

While it may be easy to dismiss tinnitus as a lesser side effect of concussion syndrome (an injury that requires immediate and lasting care), those suffering from a constant, internal buzzing may disagree. Tinnitus can often have a psychological hold on those who live with it, and emotional problems and depression are often reported side effects.

The TBI-tinnitus link is often seen in servicemen or women, particularly those who have just returned from an active tour, or people hurt in a car accident or sports related injury. Sometimes, tinnitus may be the most noticeable symptom of a brain injury.

Again, a TBI is something that requires the care and advice of a medical professional, but on the road to recovery, there are ways to combat tinnitus at home. Avoiding drinks with caffeine or alcohol is important, as are overabundance of aspirin and salt. WebMD recommends adding soothing sounds to silence and planned time to relax every day. Sleep is also an important part of combatting tinnitus.

Once at a doctor, further treatment can begin for tinnitus. There are many different forms of tinnitus, and its important to find a recovery regimen that includes other TBI symptoms and side effects.

LISTENING IN NOISE, BRAIN STRAIN, AND THE EFFECTS OF HEARING LOSS ON CHILDREN

Listening is hard work, especially for those with hearing loss. That’s the topic of a recent article on the advance healthcare network, written by Leanne Powers, AuD. “It takes more effort to listen if you have hearing loss because of the exertion required to hear and understand.” This can often lead to “brain strain”, leaving you with the possibility of chronic fatigue, cognition issues, and problems managing balance. Straining to hear in noise can take its toll.

Getting your hearing tested regularly, especially if you’re over the age of 55, can help catch these problems before they occur. If you test positive for hearing loss, hearing aids and personal assistive hearing devices can become the tools to help maintain any problems stemming from brain strain before they become too severe.

Children with hearing loss present a different problem, because they’re still growing and their brain is still developing. According to ASHA, there are four major ways in which hearing loss can affect children:

“1. It causes delay in the development of receptive and expressive communication skills (speech and language).

2. The language deficit causes learning problems that result in reduced academic achievement.

3. Communication difficulties often lead to social isolation and poor self-concept.

4. It may have an impact on vocational choices.”

Though this is not an easy thing for parents to hear, there are many things that can be done. Hearing loss in a child often requires intervention from a speech language pathologist and an audiologist, who will together create a plan of action so that the child won’t be at a disadvantage. ASHA says, “Recent research indicates that children identified with a hearing loss who begin services early may be able to develop language (spoken and/or signed) on a par with their hearing peers.”

Listening is a crucial part of day to day life, and with the right tools and guidance, those with impaired hearing need not be deprived of a normal life.