Program Report: Dr. Becca Kane and Dr. Diane Catalano – Hearing Loss

Dr. Kane

While introducing Duke audiologists Dr. Becca Kane and Dr. Diane Catalano,  Meg Solera described a journey very familiar to me and I’m sure many others in an audience with its share of gray hair and old ears.  In fact, with a little practice I think I could have delivered the presentation, but without the charm and good humor or the weight of the degrees and experience these two possess.

But stories like Meg’s and my own make the list they presented of the signs of hearing loss look like a check list of symptoms that we’ve dealt with. Require frequent repetition? Yep. Have difficulty following conversations involving more than 2 people? Yep. Think other people are mumbling? Yep. Have difficulty in noisy situation? Yep? Answer inappropriately in conversations? Well, I’ve had some funny looks but usually a smile, frown or raised eyebrows will get you through, unless it’s a direct question. (Why is your zipper down?) Read lips or more intently and watch people’s faces when they speak with you? Yep, but I’m not giving that up even with hearing aids, because people give you more credit than you deserve for sincerity and focusing on what they are saying.

Have a family history of hearing loss? Yep, grandmother, mother and sister. All of them were a little vain about it. One of my grandmother’s bratty grandchildren would say totally inappropriate things to her just to watch her nod in agreement. Medications otherwise known as ototoxic drugs? Whew, missed that one…I think. Diabetes, heart, circulation or thyroid problems? One out of four is still bad. Exposure to very loud sound? Yeah, but I’ve stopped begging my friends for an occasional Duke basketball ticket. The last time I went, I literally had to pull the hearing aids out of my ears and stick in my fingers. As our presenters pointed out, hearing loss makes it more difficult to tolerate loud sounds.

Dr. Catalano

If you find yourself nodding “yep” as you go through these signs, you might need to go for an ENT consultation. (In my case this saved me a few bucks because it also covered the cost of hearing aid test and consultation and was covered by insurance.  If you have ringing in your ears, you’re in the right place with an AuD.

If hearing loss is confirmed there are options to be discussed. There are the obvious factors including the type and degree of hearing loss as well as the listening needs of the patient. Others are not so obvious. I suspect for my grandmother and mother there were cosmetic considerations. The biggest reason that most hearing loss in the country goes untreated is the expense of hearing aids.  Three or four thousand dollars is not unusual for hearing aids dispensed in the traditional ways. Many insurance plans will pay for the exam but little or nothing for the devices. One plan I know of would pay about $300 for aids from a dispensary in Greensboro!? In my research I’ve learned that the electronics in the devices cost about $100, which makes the markup seem outrageous. On the other hand, I doubt the marginal cost of those little blue pills that let you hold on to another function that flags with age, is far less than the cost of the prescription.

Dr. Kane and Dr. Catalano also made clear that you can’t restore this kind of hearing loss; hearing aids, are just that, aids, and because modern hearing aids can be programmed to just amplify the frequencies that have been lost they preform much better than to old ones that amplified everything. They also mentioned situations where they may not work as well…while Dr. Catalano was describing how the room could make a difference, we were all facing the hard glass walls of the PNC club that reflect the ambient noise in the room.

One disturbing correlation of untreated hearing loss is the likelihood of dementia. Even mild hearing loss doubles the likelihood of developing dementia. This is apparently not a direct result of the hearing loss but the loss of social interaction that often comes with hearing loss. Personally, I have to take my hearing aids out occasionally to keep my sanity.

Because there were so many good tips about how to deal with hearing loss and with people in your circle of friends and family that have hearing loss, we’ve converted the PowerPoint and to a PDF file that can be accessed on the website version of this writeup in this sentence at the end. There is also a link in the pdf to a guide to purchasing hearing aids. Click here for the pdf.

Thank you, Meg, for persuading Dr. Kane and Dr. Catalano to take the time to develop and present this excellent program.  And thanks also to them for lessening the need to shout at Meg when we need her attention.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

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