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Managing a Hearing Aid Thanksgiving

After last year’s COVID holiday wipeout, family get-togethers are coming back strong. For those with hearing issues or new hearing aids, that might mean—once again or for the first time—dealing with the challenge of a loud, crowded holiday. Though this can make family fun difficult, there are a few steps you can take to make this hearing-aid-Thanksgiving easier.

Where to Sit and Stand

Remember that old real estate cliché: location, location, location. Where you plant yourself in a room can be crucial. Try to avoid being in the center of things. At dinner, shoot for the end of the table. That will cut down on the amount of sound you’re dealing with on either side, which can be disorientating and overwhelming.

The same goes for the football game in the living room. Stay away from the TV—more specifically, its speakers—and aim for the edges of the gathering. Just be aware, the farther away from a conversation you are, the more difficultly you may have listening in. As we wrote in a past blog, the hardest part of new social situations is the unknown. You’ll often find yourself simply (pardon the expression) playing it by ear.

Go Easy on Yourself

All this can be tiring. So, another good strategy is taking a break from the hubbub. A walk around the block right before or after dinner will clear your head and give your ears a rest. If need be, you can also find a quiet room for some downtime. Give yourself a chance to recharge!

Others are There to Help

Your hearing aids are there to assist you! If new, they may take some getting used to, but remember not to get frustrated. Some aids may even come with programmable settings for different environments. These settings, if properly used, can be very helpful.

Also, there’s no shame in letting those around you know what’s going on! If you’re new to hearing aids, politely broach the topic, ask those present if they wouldn’t mind speaking to you a little slower and maybe away from the crowd. This will make things easier for everyone—especially you.

And most importantly, have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Enjoy the time with those around you.

COVID and Hearing

As has become clear, nothing is easy with COVID-19. Even with vaccines widely available, the current wave of infections will inevitably result in more cases of what is known as long-haul COVID. So, what’s the relationship between COVID and hearing?

Long COVID

What has become clear over the last year and a half is that a small minority of people who get infected do not simply “get over it” — no matter the treatment they receive. Instead of their symptoms wrapping up after the acute phase of the disease has run its course—usually, about two weeks—these unlucky folks, about 10 percent of those infected, have symptoms that linger.

For those who required hospitalization, a recent study published in The Lancet found that about half were still feeling the effects a year later. Fatigue, muscle weakness, and shortness of breath are the most common signs of long-haul COVID.

COVID and Hearing

For those affected, are further hearing issues a problem? Can those who contracted COVID and then recovered be plagued with issues that may include bouts of tinnitus and vertigo, and (for some) sudden onset hearing loss? According to Healthy Hearing, the jury’s still out. Maybe, but much more research is needed.

But some say it’s possible. One theory is that such ear-related problems are rooted in the havoc that COVID can wreak on the body’s circulatory system. There is now a syndrome identified as coronavirus blood clots, which can be especially problematic in the kind of tiny blood vessels that are crucial to ear function.

This may be the root cause of why tinnitus—a persistent ringing in the ears that is not associated with actual sounds—has (anecdotally) been reported to have gotten worse for many after getting COVID.

At this point COVID long haulers are the focus of a tremendous amount of medical research and, hopefully, treatments will eventually be developed. If you think your hearing loss has gotten worse – due to COVID or not – it’s best to speak with an audiologist or hearing specialist immediately.

The Sounds of Summer Are Back

For many folks, the possibility of hitting the summer music festival scene—currently inching from longing to reality—is one great aspect of the COVID vaccine rollout. Gigs are being scheduled and artists and roadies are getting back in the saddle—or at least the tour bus.

But don’t let the era of Zoom meetings and binge-watching let you forget that live music can be loud—and thus a threat to your hearing.

If the bands you want to see are going to crank up the volume then there are a couple of things you can do. Not lingering too close to any speakers is an obvious one, while “stepping out” during extended exposure to noise—the kind that a summer music festival offers—is a good strategy. A little rest offers your ears the chance to recover.

The best strategy is to use some decent earplugs. There are plenty of cheap options—though you do get what you pay for.

Regular exposure to loud situations—because you’re an avid concertgoer or work in a loud environment—might make investing in some high-end earplugs a good idea. Hearing health professionals can create custom-made earmolds that are designed to drastically cut down on the decibel level your ears have to deal with while not ruining sound quality (all while being comfortable and unobtrusive).

Don’t assume this is an issue just for the boomers. The fact is that one-fourth of Americans ages 18 to 44 already report some hearing loss. And not protecting your ears from noise exposure is a perfect way to end up dealing with serious hearing issues in the not-too-distant future.

 

BHSM 2021

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, a yearly hearing healthcare event designed to help raise awareness about auditory health, wellness, and communication disorders. The BHSM 2021 theme is “Building Connections.”

What is BHSM?

BHSM is known primarily as a hearing industry affair, a time when audiology clinics and hearing specialists can focus their efforts on getting the word out about hearing technology advances, public health information, and more. BHSM has been around since 1927, and each year focuses on a different aspect of hearing care.

This year, ASHA breaks down the month into 4 weeks:

Week 1: Untreated hearing loss in adults
Week 2: Early intervention
Week 3: The role of Speech-Language Pathologists in COVID-19 recovery (1)
Week 4: Hearing protection for children

Why is BHSM important?

BHSM is all about recognition; not just recognition of the struggles of the hearing loss community, but also their triumphs. It offers hearing care practitioners ways to reach out while allowing patients and those with hearing loss ample opportunities to pursue treatment and show the world their progress.

The staff at REM have always been big boosters of Better Hearing & Speech Month. We strongly believe the best way to help people on their hearing loss journey is to make sure everyone has access to information about yearly advances in hearing technology and hearing help benefits.

If you agree with how important this month can be – to you, to the lives of many people with untreated hearing loss – there are even ways you can help extend a helping hand.

What Can You Do To Help?

ASHA has a comprehensive list of resources you can print out, share, or connect to on social media.

More importantly, you can use BHSM 2021 as an opportunity to talk to that special someone in your life who has hearing loss, one who might not be getting the help they need. Managing hearing loss can change lives for the better, and with care and attention, can help open up and revitalize the world.

At-Home Maintenance

A lot of potential hearing aid issues can be solved right from the comfort of your own home, and now more than ever, it’s good to know how to routinely clean and take care of your device. At-home maintenance can save you a lot of frustration in the future.

Getting Ready to Clean

1. Set a schedule. Clean your devices at the same time every day or every other day, preferably right before bed.

2. Use tools designed for the job, such as a wax pick and a tiny brush. Your audiologist can provide you with specific options.

3. Use alcohol-free wipes or a dry microfiber cloth. Always check with your audiologist about any products you’re unsure of, and be careful to not get the aids wet. Oticon has a good breakdown of how to clean different types of aids.

Cleaning

1. Always remove the batteries before you touch any cleaning material to the surface of your device. Then “keep the battery compartment open to dry overnight. If they’re rechargeable, dock them according to the manufacturer’s specifications.”

2. Use the wipes or cloth first. Gently run them over the surface of the aid.

3. Next, take your brush and remove any dust or debris, focusing on any nooks or crevices (such as the microphone).

4. For RITE (receiver-in-the-ear) aides, you also want to keep an eye on your wax guard. You’ll want to brush any wax off your device any time you clean, but you’ll also need to change and unclog the wax guard every month or two. For this, you’ll need other specialized tools. HearingLife has a helpful tutorial.

Still Having Issues?

You might just need to change the battery or adjust the volume. If you’re having difficulty getting the right levels, sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution.

If none of your troubleshooting works, however, you may need to talk to your audiologist. Telehealth appointments might be available. Here at REM, we’re working on getting our remote testing system up and running. Soon, we’ll be able to access your aid in your home from our office to help diagnose and fix the problem. Call your audiologist for more information.

For step-by-step video guides about cleaning and taking care of your devices and other at-home maintenance tips, you can always refer to our How-To Videos.

2021 is Here

2021 is here, and with the promise of a new year comes the hope for change. Coronavirus holidays and winter brain-training have our attention now, but do you have hearing healthcare plans in mind for the spring and beyond?

If you’re still looking for some simple steps to help with your hearing resolutions, we might be able to offer a few COVID-safe suggestions.

1. Mask extenders. Start your year off right by picking up one of our complimentary mask extenders. These easy to use accessories can help keep you protected and your hearing aids safe. Call our office for more information. Stop by, and we’ll bring them to you right outside.

2. Any hearing aid problems? Get them taken care of with our curbside service! For routine maintenance issues, you can drop off your device without having to leave your car.

3. If you would like a little more intensive work on your hearing aid (such as reprogramming), you can ask us about our remote testing services. We’re planning to roll this out in the next few months.

4. Attend some of our virtual seminars. If you’re interested in what new hearing technology is out there, hop onto one of our zoom demonstrations. We’ll be demoing the latest tech and answering any questions you may have. Our Tips and Sips page will list all upcoming dates and info about how to log on.

Let’s go into this year with our ears in mind. Here’s to a hopeful and healthy 2021.

Auditory Training at Home

If you have hearing loss and find yourself alone during the winter months, the following tips could help with your auditory training at home.

What is auditory training?

Auditory training is not only learning how to distinguish between sounds but comprehending and interpreting the sounds you hear. In day-to-day life, this is usually done passively and — if you have difficulty hearing — with a hearing aid or audio device. Socializing with people and interacting with others around you helps strengthen your signal-to-noise ratio, clue you in on what’s going on and what you need to pay attention to. In young children, auditory training goes hand in hand with brain development.

How can auditory training be impaired?

If socialization is taken away or limited, if you find yourself alone more often than not, you may wear your hearing aids less. Your brain may stop working as hard as it’s used to, and its ability to decode the information your ears hear — like any muscle not in constant use — may atrophy.

What can you do?

1. Always wear your hearing aids during the day, whether you’re alone or not.
2. Read books while listening along to the audiobook (or read along out loud). In the long run, this visual + auditory combination can help strengthen your comprehension.
3. If you’re watching tv or a movie, turn on closed captions (in addition to keeping the volume at a comfortable level).
4. Talk to people! Current technology can often pair right to your hearing aid to help with video chats and digital get-togethers.

For other suggestions, don’t hesitate to call your audiologist, who will be able to answer any other questions you may have about auditory training at home. Historically, winter months are the toughest months, but today our aids and our knowledge can help bridge the isolation gap, help us continue to grow.

Digital Holidays

If you’re away from family this holiday season — as a lot of people are — chances are good you’ll instead be spending time with them digitally. Video chats this year are the new get-togethers, a holiday lifeline for those who can’t see their loved ones in person.

If you have hearing loss and wear hearing aids, how does this affect you?

Technology

The good news is, most digital aids can pair with wireless devices easily. All you have to do is look up your manufacturer’s specifications. Oticon, for instance, has “wireless listening capabilities…” in several of their aids, allowing you to “easily connect to accessories and everyday devices for clearer and more comfortable communication.” Using their built-in Bluetooth® capabilities, modern aids can make listening to music, watching tv, and talking to friends and family easier than ever before.

Take Zoom, as an example. HearingLife outlines how simple it is to hook up your aids, depending on your digital platform. Keep in mind, however, if you’re using a computer, you may have to purchase an Oticon ConnectClip, a device that helps “turn your hearing aids into a wireless stereo headset.” Different brands will offer different features, and some may even be able to hook up to your computer directly. Don’t hesitate to ask your audiologist for more information.

Socialization

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, and for those with hearing difficulties, it may seem even tougher. Those not able to socialize as they have in years past — especially given the existing hurdles of hearing loss — may isolate themselves and pull away from the people around them. It’s not uncommon to choose solitude in these times. It’s even understandable. But know that doing so may cause harm down the line. The brain needs conversation, interaction.

So consider using this holiday season to your benefit. Know that you’re not alone. Reach out to friends and family to continue the traditions of your past. ASHA Leader has a very helpful article about ways to make your family’s holidays festive and bright, everything from setting expectations to planning conversation starters and games.

For additional resources, please talk to your audiologist, who can help you with not only technical concerns but also with making the next few months of digital holidays a little easier on everyone.

Social Distancing

In today’s world of social distancing and 6-feet-away safety, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the efficiency of hearing aids over long distances. How far away can you be before your aids don’t help you anymore?

The good news is today’s hearing technology is more effective than ever before. But for larger distances or noisier locations, hearing and speech processing can be tricky. Especially in a learning environment. Even with top-shelf aids. For every doubling of distance, the sound level around you reduces by 6 decibels (dB) (e.g., moving from 10 to 20 meters away from a sound source). Background noise, too, further compromises word intelligibility. A person with optimal hearing requires speech to be 2 to 3 dB louder than background noise in order to understand 50% of words correctly. A person with mild to moderate hearing loss requires speech to be 8 dB louder than background noise in order to understand 50% of words correctly.

What aids do help?

Though no technology is perfect (a great enough distance and/or ambient noise will overpower any aid), Oticon’s BrainHearing™ technology and their Opn S1 can certainly help bridge the gap. “Oticon Opn and the open sound experience proved how Oticon’s unique approach to signal processing outperformed traditional hearing aid technology. In fact, compared to traditional technology, Oticon Opn improved speech understanding by 30%, reduced listening effort by 20%, and improved memory recall by 20%.

Another device that can help, especially in classrooms, is the Oticon ConnectClip, which functions as a remote microphone. For watching TV or listening to podcasts and music, current hearing aids can also connect to your phone and smart devices via Bluetooth®. Be aware, though, that constant use of remote connection will drain your batteries at a faster rate than usual, so be sure to stock up!

For other options and devices, don’t hesitate to ask your audiologist.

Outside of hearing healthcare technology, what can you do?

For regular conversations, you can be pretty confident your aids will work at a distance of 6 feet, though it might be more of a challenge to hear than if you were closer. If there is too much ambient noise, you can always politely ask your companion to speak a little louder or move to a quieter location. Be upfront with your situation, and don’t be embarrassed.

Even more concerning than keeping your distance is having to potentially isolate yourself from family, friends, and maybe even healthcare professionals. According to professionals, “in times such as these, when we are encouraged to be further apart from each other to avoid community-based virus spread…members with hearing loss are likely feeling more isolation than ever before.” And with isolation comes a whole host of problems, including depression, which can potentially affect the way you hear and how your brain can process speech.

If you have concerns about any comprehension or hearing trouble, please talk to your audiologist or primary care physician. Being comfortable in your environment is no small thing, and right now, it’s important to be at your best.

Keep Your Hearing Aids Dry

Cold weather is almost here. This fall and winter, how can you keep your hearing aids dry and safe?

Keep Them Dry

Keeping water out of your aids is one of the most important things you can do. Any excess moisture can irreparably damage your device, and due to COVID, you probably don’t want to make any unnecessary trips to get them fixed.

Consider purchasing a specialized dehumidifier to help dry out your aids at night. For specific products, check out amazon or talk to your audiologist. They’ll know the best option for your needs.

When changing batteries, be sure your hands are dry and no excess moisture touches the contact ports.

Exercise / Masks

This year, there are also masks to consider. In addition to normal mask-wearing tips, if you’re exercising outside, you want to be sure both your face covering and your hearing aids are both properly fitted and not tangled up. You don’t want to lose your aid mid-run.

If you’re working out, sweat is also a factor. Though it’s another accessory, consider wearing a sweatband to catch any perspiration.

Damage

Unsure if your aids are damaged? Healthy Hearing has a list of “telltale signs”:

1. Loud noises cause hearing aids to cut out
2. Fading sound
3. Static
4. Distorted sounds

If, worst-case scenario, your device has issues, don’t worry! Check the warranty and call your audiologist. It may just be a matter of drying out your aids. With remote testing and device diagnosis on the rise, it’s also possible your audiologist could fix your aid without you ever having to leave the house.

FYI

For a complimentary mask extender to help prevent your hearing instruments from falling out, give us a call at (888) 710-5734. We’ll be sure to reserve one for you!