A Different Kind of Hearing Aid
By PAULA SPAN, The New York Times, 11/12/2013
Jim Cooke blames his hearing loss on the constant roar of C-119 aircraft engines he experienced in the Air Force. He didn’t wear protective gear because, like most 20-year-olds, “you think you’re indestructible,” he said. By the time he was 45, he needed hearing aids for both ears.
Still, he had a long career as a telephone company executive while he and his wife, Jean, raised two children in Broadview Heights, Ohio. Only after retirement, he told me in an interview, did he start having trouble communicating.
Mr. Cooke had to relinquish a couple of part-time jobs he enjoyed because “I felt insecure about dealing with people on the phone,” he said. He withdrew from a church organization he led because he couldn’t grasp what members were saying at meetings.
“He didn’t want to be in social situations,” Mrs. Cooke said. “It gave him a feeling of inadequacy, and anger at times.”
Two years ago, when their grandchildren began saying that Granddad needed to replace his hearing aid batteries — although the batteries were fine — the Cookes went to the Cleveland Clinic, where an audiologist there, Dr. Sarah Sydlowski, told Jim that at 76, he might consider a cochlear implant.
Perhaps the heart-tugging YouTube videos of deaf toddlers suddenly hearing sounds have led us to think of cochlear implants as primarily for children. Or perhaps, said Dr. Frank R. Lin, a Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist, we consider late-life hearing loss normal (which it is), “an unfortunate but inconsequential aspect of aging,” and don’t explore treatment beyond hearing aids.
In any case, the idea of older adults having a complex electronic device surgically implanted has been slow to catch on, even though by far the greatest number of people with severe hearing loss are seniors.
Often, when patients start to withdraw from conversation and activities, “families chalk it up to aging or the beginning of cognitive decline, when in fact their hearing loss has progressed to the point where they can’t engage,” Dr. Sydlowski said.
Beyond the social and emotional toll — isolation, withdrawal, depression — “the kind of hearing loss we’ll all develop increases our risk for cognitive decline, dementia and even physical decline,” Dr. Lin said. A brain constantly working to try to interpret degraded sound, he explained, has less ability to handle other kinds of thinking and memory-building.
Dr. Lin estimated that 150,000 Americans over age 70 could benefit from an implant.
See the rest of the story at http://nyti.ms/HPGS33
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