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Why Is Everyone Mumbling? Hearing Loss and What to do about it

If you’re like most people, it will happen so slowly and gradually you won’t even notice. You won’t realize, for example, that at dinner parties, with numerous conversations going on, you have trouble hearing the person next to you. Or that you often ask people to repeat themselves. Or that you listen to your TV at an unusually high volume.

“Most people don’t realize they’re not hearing well, and it usually takes a family member to notice,” says Patricia Wilson, an audiologist with Ear, Nose and Throat Consultants/Quality Hearing Aid Center in Livonia, Michigan.

“Many things can cause hearing loss, including simply age,” says Wilson. Other possible causes include genetics, diabetes, a history of working in noisy environments, or using firearms without ear protection. Excessive wax plugging the hearing canal is a temporary condition your doctor can easily fix by flushing out the ear.

If you suspect a hearing problem, Wilson says your first step should be to see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor to have an audiologist perform a hearing test. That will determine if there’s any underlying medical issue causing the problem.

Hearing loss can actually affect our mental, emotional and psychological well-being. “When hearing loss reaches a certain point,” says Wilson, “people tend to start becoming isolated because it becomes difficult to take part in conversations. It takes a lot of energy to listen if you don’t hear well, and after a point it’s easier to just sit there and nod and smile.”

Wilson says that ignoring the warning signs of hearing loss can lead to depression. “Anxiety can increase, and quality of life goes down,” she says. “It’s so important to be able to communicate. At a doctor visit, for example, doctors sometimes turn away and look at charts while they’re talking, causing you to miss critical information.”

Wilson points out that a number of studies have found a link between hearing loss and an increased risk of cognitive issues, including dementia.

Once a doctor determines what’s causing hearing loss, the next step is a treatment plan, which may include hearing aids. “Some people picture the hearing aids their parents had that whistled, or always need to be fiddled with,” says Wilson. “Today’s hearing aids are not like that at all. The technology has really advanced, and today’s hearing aids are much smaller and easier to manage. I’ve seen people get their hearing aids and say, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ Some have gotten teary-eyed. They are always surprised at how much they’ve been missing.”

Will insurance cover your hearing aids?

While Medicare itself does not cover hearing aids, some Medicare Advantage or supplemental insurance plans may include coverage or an allowance toward hearing aids. Some plans offer a discount on service from a specified provider. Your plan probably has a toll-free number, so call to see what your plan offers.

  • Ask if you have a hearing aid benefit and what your benefit includes.
  • Ask whether you need to work with a particular provider.
  • Ask whether coverage is limited to a certain type of hearing aid, and whether your hearing loss needs to be at a certain level to qualify.

Hearing aids can be an investment, especially if they’re not covered by insurance, yet it’s one well worth making to help preserve your quality of life. Treating hearing loss ensures you can communicate and connect with your loved ones — an important factor in helping your brain stay young and keeping you participating fully in the world around you.

“I often see people with grandchildren, and we talk about wanting to hear those conversations when they’re visiting,” Wilson notes. “It’s fun just to hear the kids talking to each other, and it’s so important to be able to give them your wisdom. I’ll remind them that there’s a lot they have to offer.”