Baby Boomers,

Did you know that hearing loss is probably the most common health condition affecting the quality of life for older adults? Roughly 1/3 of all Boomers in the United States have some degree of hearing loss.  Even scarier is the fact that, by the time we become 75 years old, 1/2 of us will have a significant amount of hearing loss.

Can you hear what I am saying?

This is important stuff and it can affect anyone.  Did you realize that Ex-President Bill Clinton wears a hearing aid?  So do actors Rob Lowe, Kiefer Sutherland and Halle Berry.  If you have any type of hearing loss you are in the same good company as Rush Limbaugh, Robert Redford and legendary “Who” guitarist Pete Townshend.
Hearing deficiencies come in many forms. They can range from a mild loss of high-pitched sounds to constant aggravating hissing noises all the way to complete and debilitating loss of hearing.  Strangely enough, hearing problems can be hereditary or they can result from disease, trauma, certain medications or long-term exposure to loud noise.

So, do you think you might have a hearing problem?

In many cases, Baby Boomers may be experiencing a hearing problem without realizing it. Others, unfortunately, might realize they have an issue, but are too embarrassed to tell their doctor, family or even friends about it. 
Let’s start by having you ask yourself a couple of key questions:

If you answer "yes" to three or more of these questions, you probably have a hearing problem and may need to have your hearing checked by an appropriate doctor.

  • Is it hard to hear conversations on the telephone?
  • Do others complain that I have the volume on the TV or radio way too high?
  • Do I have trouble following a conversation when I’m in public?
  • Do the people I talk to mumble or speak unclear?
  • Do I find social situations stressful and tiring?
  • Do I misunderstand what others are saying and sometimes respond inappropriately?
  • Do I find myself asking people to repeat themselves?
  • Do I find myself saying “what” or “huh” more often than not?
  • Is it harder to understand the speech of women and children?
  • Do I hear a ringing, roaring, or hissing sound when it is quiet?
  • Do I feel like people sneak up on me more often?
  • Does “Rock N’ Roll music seem way too loud?

       OK, maybe the last question is not appropriate because “Rock N’ Roll” music can never be too loud can it?
But seriously, if some of the behaviors touched on in the questions above are creeping into your daily life then you need to see a hearing specialist. The first thing you need to do, if you suspect you might have a hearing problem is to schedule an appointment with your family doctor. In most cases, they can administer a battery of simple tests that can identify your problem and then prescribe an effective course of action.

In some cases, your doctor may send you to an “Audiologist.”  An Audiologist is an expert who identifies, diagnoses, treats, and manages hearing loss and balance disorders.  The majority of hearing issues cannot be treated with medication or surgery, but can be treated by an “Audiologist” through specific rehabilitation including hearing aids, assistive listening devices, auditory exercises and counseling.   Don’t worry; the tests that an “Audiologist” performs are painless.  Also, they do not prescribe drugs or perform surgery.
If things are worse than expected, your doctor may also refer you to an “Otolaryngologist.”  This is just a “fancy” name for an “Ear, Nose and Throat” or “ENT” specialist.  And by “fancy” I mean an Otolaryngologist is only ready to start their practice after completing up to 15 years of college and post-graduate training. Pretty fancy huh?

An “ENT” will target why you have a hearing loss and the causes.  The “ENT” will review your medical history and your family’s medical hearing history.  They also conduct thorough hearing exams and, based on what they find, they will prescribe any further tests.  They are trained in both the medical and surgical treatment of hearing loss, ear infections, balance disorders, ear noise (tinnitus), and some cranial nerve disorders. Otolaryngologists also manage congenital (birth) disorders of the outer and inner ear.

So, for those of you who haven’t been listening to me or can’t hear what I’m saying, if you have any trouble hearing whatsoever, go see your doctor.
You know, as we age we all are susceptible to a condition known as“Presbycusis.”  No, that doesn’t mean your nose if going to grow bigger and bigger.  

“Presbycusis” is gradual hearing loss and can occur due to changes in the auditory nerve or the form and function of the ear itself.  There are several things that cause it or worsen its effects including:

  • Exposure to loud noise - remember those rock concerts?
  • Heredity
  • Past head injuries
  • Past infections
  • Past Illnesses
  • Certain prescription drugs
  • High Blood Pressure
Also, listen up for “Tinnitus” the ringing, hissing or roaring sound in the ears frequently caused by exposure to loud noise or certain medicines. Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease and it can accompany any type of hearing loss.  Tinnitus many times is a sign of other important health problems, like allergies and problems with your heart and blood vessels. Tinnitus can come and go, or it can persist for long periods of time.
Like I said earlier, some folks may not even know they have a hearing problem because symptoms develop so gradually.  Then there are some stubborn Baby Boomers, like me, that may not want to admit they have trouble hearing.  If you ignore your hearing problems you may find yourself becoming depressed or withdrawing from others.  Don’t let yourself become frustrated or embarrassed about not understanding everything that you are hearing.  Who the heck wants some young whipper snapper pointing fingers at us, calling us older people confused, cranky or befuddled just because we don't hear well?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “I am not a doctor, nor have I ever played one on television.”  But, I do know that taking care of your hearing is very important and I ask you (LOUDLY) to get your hearing checked out as soon as you can especially if you suspect it’s starting to fade.  

A great man (or woman, I’m not sure) once said:

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening.”


Make sure you continue to reward yourself by taking care of your hearing.