Tag Archive: hearing aids

American Girl’s 2020 doll of the year

Photo credit: Courtesy of American Girl

by Caroline Masia

On December 31, 2019, Good Morning America announced to the world the American Girl Doll of the year for 2020. Her name is Joss Kendrick, a surfer gal and a cheerleader from Southern California. At first glance, she might look like your typical California girl with beautiful auburn hair, a fit surfer body and beautifully tanned skin. But Joss is different from the other American Girl Dolls. She has hearing aids that you can clearly see circling around her ears and she is proudly showing them off.

When I first saw the Good Morning America annoucement, my heart leapt and I felt proud of the American Girl Doll company for coming out with a doll who has hearing loss. I have hearing loss. I was born deaf and got my first cochlear implant at sixteen months and my second when I was seven years old. Growing up, there was no doll in the market that had hearing aids or cochlear implants. In fact, there was no doll out there that had any sort of differences. Instead, when I returned home from my surgery, I found that my sister had “rigged” up several of her dolls by fashioning “cochlear implants” out of buttons and other materials, so that I could have a doll that looked like me.

It is wonderful to finally have dolls that represent the population more realistically and is also commendable because American Girl is now helping to normalize differences. Everyone faces challenges. And all girls are beautiful. By creating a doll with a hearing impairment, American Girl makes that statement loud and clear!

Caroline Masia is currently in her third year at the University of Central Florida studying exceptional education. She is very active with the Jewish community on campus and is involved with the American Sign Language club. After college, Caroline hopes to teach students who are deaf or hard of hearing and help to make a difference in their lives.

Thanks to Sherilyn Adler, PhD, of the Ear Peace: Save Your Hearing Foundation, an educational nonprofit, for assisting The Quiet Coalition with this piece. TQC is proud to regard Dr. Adler and her group as partners in its work on preventing hearing loss.

No hearing aids leads to divorce

Photo credit: Steve Johnson licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is refusing to get needed hearing aids grounds for divorce? For Tina Welling, writing in The New York Times’ Modern Love column, it was.

She and her now ex-husband reached what appears for them to be a reasonable solution–they divided their house into two separate apartments, but they remain friends and sometimes walk their respective dogs together–but to me divorce seems to be a radical solution to a spouse’s hearing loss. As the writer explains, though, her husband’s refusal to get the hearing aids he needed crystalized her feelings about the marriage and made its problems unavoidable, so she took what she thought was necessary action after 52 years of marriage.

Studies show that there is a stigma to hearing loss and to wearing hearing aids, and that the average older person needing them waits 7 to 10 years before getting them. This isn’t rational–as this interview from the New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst site discusses, you’re still old, with or without hearing aids.

Other research shows that only about a third of older Americans who really need hearing aids get them.

And now, research is underway to see if wearing hearing aids prevents or delays the onset of dementia.

My advice: if you or a loved one needs hearing aids, don’t get a divorce. Get hearing aids instead!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Univ. of Texas band members now wear ear plugs

Photo credit: Klobetime licensed under CC By-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in The Daily Texan reports that Longhorn Band members now wear earplugs.

Noise-induced hearing loss in musicians of all types is an occupational or recreational hazard, regardless of what instrument or type of music one plays. In fact, music students have been used as subjects in studies of the effect of noise exposure on hearing, compared to those studying other subjects.

My advice is simple: all musicians–in high school and college bands and at the professional level–should use hearing protection.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Can hearing aids delay development of dementia?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Can hearing aids delay the development of dementia in older people? This question has been discussed since research showed an association between hearing loss and dementia, with greater hearing loss being associated with a greater chance of dementia. This study indicates that the answer may be “yes.” 

The study is based on insurance claims data, not clinical data, so clinical studies are needed to confirm the results. But in analyzing data on 79 million adults insured by a private health insurance company, hearing aid use among adults diagnosed with hearing loss was associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Hearing loss leads to lack of brain stimulation, social isolation, and depression, all of which have been linked to development of dementia. So the results of the study make sense. It’s possible that treating hearing loss with hearing aids may help delay or prevent dementia.

Of course, preventing hearing loss in the first place is far better and far cheaper than providing hearing aids to those with hearing loss, and certainly cheaper than treating dementia. And preventing most hearing loss is easy: avoid loud noise exposure or wear hearing protection if one can’t.

Because if something sounds too loud, it is too loud.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

What? 50 years later Woodstock generation dealing with hearing loss

Photo credit: James M. Shelley licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to recent research by the Gallup organization 47% of 65- to 80-year olds who listened to loud music when they were young have hearing loss. That cohort are the Woodstock Generation, for whom loud rock concerts were a way of life.

But now, along with their fans, many of the musicians from the bands of that era, e.g., Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend, have retired because they suffer from painful and incurable auditory conditions caused by noise damage to their ears, like tinnitus or hyperacusis, or they have severe noise-induced hearing loss.

It’s the end of an era. There is no cure for hearing loss, and the only treatment is hearing aids, as cochlear implants are reserved for the profoundly hearing impaired. What’s more, hearing loss is associated with depression, social isolation, dementia, loss of balance, and cardiovascular disease.

Who’d have thought that the “peace & love” kids from the ‘60s & ‘70s would end up this way?

Ironically, in 1969, then-Surgeon General William H. Stewart actually tried to get noise exposure classified as a public health problem. In fact, he helped organize the first international meeting on noise and health. Now, 50 years later, the nation is awakening to what looks like a growing epidemic of hearing loss.

These new Gallup poll findings (funded by a hearing aid company) are consistent with recent federal studies. The sponsor of the Gallup research has a simple and direct message: Buy our hearing aids. But be warned, hearing aids amplify sound but they do a poor job of improving speech comprehension in noisy environments.

So if you are a member of the Woodstock generation, protect what hearing you have left and avoid exposure to loud sounds.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

A cheaper way to buy hearing aids exists

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article by Eric Ravenscraft, the New York Times, discusses how tech companies are offering cheaper hearing aids online. For those with hearing loss, this may be great news.

But for those without hearing loss yet, there is a simpler and cheaper solution. Namely, it’s far better to protect your hearing now, because even the best hearing aid isn’t a  replacement for preserved natural hearing.

Noise-induced hearing loss accounts for a lot of hearing loss in the U.S., and it is entirely avoidable.

So remember, if something sounds too loud, it is too loud. If you want to preserve your natural hearing, leave the noisy environment, insert ear plugs, or you’ll need hearing aids later.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

A lament about hearing aids

Jennifer Finney Boylan, The New York Times, wonders: “Glasses Are Cool. Why Aren’t Hearing Aids?

I can answer that for you Jennifer:

Hearing loss is stigmatized and hearing aids are expensive, rarely covered by insurance, and don’t work as well for hearing as glasses work for sight.

In short, there is nothing at all cool about an expensive bit of kit that doesn’t work that well and is assumed to be a device meant only for the elderly.

You’re welcome.

Coping with hearing loss and noisy restaurants is not a game

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report from CNN discusses a novel strategy to help people with hearing loss understand speech: a game to train the brain to process speech better.

This is a widely known but poorly understood problem–sometimes called the “Speech in Noise problem”–with people with hearing loss, but it can also affect people with normal or adequate hearing as tested by standard hearing tests (“pure tone audiometry”) who nonetheless can have problems understanding speech.

The problem is worse for those with hearing aids, which is probably why up to 40% of people with hearing aids don’t use them–they just don’t help understand speech in everyday situations. As hearing loss blogger Shari Eberts has written, hearing aids just are not like eyeglasses.

Some research supports a central cause for this, i.e., deficiencies in brain processing of auditory signals as people age. Other research puts the problem in the periphery, i.e., the ear. And the research on hidden hearing loss puts the problem in between, in the nerves connecting the ear to the brain. Most likely the explanation involves all three.

Even though the computer game reported in this story may eventually help people who struggle to understand speech, dealing with hearing loss and noisy restaurants isn’t a game.

The real answer isn’t brain training. It’s quieter restaurants, stores, and other public places.

Quieter indoor places will not only help those who already have hearing loss understand speech, they will prevent hearing loss in those still with good hearing.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

A lowly fly may offer hope to hearing loss sufferers

Photo credit: Jpaur licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

And Michelle Pucci, TVO, tells us how in her article, “How a tiny fly on a treadmill could lead to better hearing aids.” Pucci introduces us to the research team studying the ormia ochracea, a small fly that is drawn to “crickets’ singing, but no one quite knows how it manages to pick out that sound amid the cacophony of the natural world and locate it so precisely.” Why is this important?  Because if researchers can determine how the fly “pinpoints individual sounds in a noisy setting,” writes Pucci, “it could help solve the so-called cocktail party problem — the one that makes it tough for your grandmother to hear what you’re saying at family functions (and causes her to shout at you), because her hearing aid picks up too much background noise.”

Andrew Mason, a biologist at the University of Toronto explains that the fly’s “eardrums work like a scale, and incoming noises tip the balance.” Unlike humans, the fly’s “eardrums are connected — which Mason says could explain why the fly tries to interpret the different levels of sound it receives in both ears.”  Humans, on the other hand, can “locate and isolate the sounds they want to listen to, even in noisy environments, if the sources are far enough away from one another.”

The problem hearing aid wearers experience is that “it’s impossible to focus on a single conversation in a noisy room…because hearing aids trick the ear into thinking all those sounds are the same distance away.” That is, the hearing aid amplifies everything, making the task of concentrating on one conversation among many impossible. As researchers learn more about the ormia ochracea’s excellent sound-location abilities, engineers have used that knowledge.  Today, mics in some hearing aid design “mimic the fly’s ear structure,” and “research groups around the world are working on hearing aids that would allow the wearer to home in on different frequencies.”

So why do ormia ochracea search for crickets?  The answer is pretty grim:

[T]he female deposits its spawn inside the crickets, who sing when looking for a mate. Black-striped larvae then hatch inside the doomed cricket and scrape at its innards for 10 days…before “bursting out of the side like in Alien.”

The high cost of hearing aids might be coming down

Photo credit: ReSound licensed under CC BY 3.0

Paula Span, the New York Times, writes about legislation making its way through Congress that could make hearing aids cheaper and more accessible. Currently, people needing hearing aids must spend at least $1,500 to $2,000 per hearing aid–double that for a pair–because the price includes bundled audiology services. But under the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017, the Food and Drug Administration would be charged with creating “a regulatory category for [over-the-counter] devices and to establish standards for safety, effectiveness and labeling.”

One reason hearing aids would be significantly cheaper if this bill is enacted is that consumers would not have to go to an audiologist to get them, as they are required to do today. Rather, consumers could opt to purchase audiology services to help adjust each device, but they wouldn’t be required to do so.

And lowering the cost is important as hearing aid wearers tend to be older and “Medicare coverage of hearing aids [is] prohibited by law.” But can consumers adequately adjust their own hearing aids? Swan reports on an Indiana University double-blind clinical trial where researchers worked with participants who never wore hearing aids before. The researchers “compared the experiences of those randomly assigned to full-bore audiology services and those making over-the-counter selections,” and determined that “[i]t didn’t matter whether the audiologist fitted them or the consumer made his own choice…[t]hey both were effective, and they didn’t differ.” Given that hearing loss has a profound effect on overall health and not just hearing health, providing a low-cost option to seniors makes a lot of sense.

But Daniel Fink, MD, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, says that hearing aids do not work as well as people may suspect, which is why many people who have them rarely use them. Rather than focusing all of our attention and resources on treating hearing loss after it occurs, Dr. Fink believes we should also be focusing our efforts on preventing hearing loss in the first instance. As Dr. Fink notes, noise causes hearing loss, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, and we could greatly diminish the instances of these disorders by reasonably regulating noise and making people aware that loud sound today means hearing loss tomorrow.