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Video: What to do to combat hearing loss

  1. Transcript of: What to do to combat hearing loss

    MATT LAUER, co-host: We're back now at 8:09. This morning on TODAY'S HEALTH , we're talking about hearing loss . If you think old age and hearing loss , you might want to think again. The truth is younger Americans are losing their hearing at an alarming rate, and recently I found out that that includes me as well. We live in a noisy, noisy world, so noisy that the question these days isn't ' Can you hear me now ?' but ' Can you hear me at all?' Excessive noise is now the number one cause of hearing loss , not aging. And of the nearly 30 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss , over half are under the age of 65.

    Mr. JIM McDADE (Has Significant Hearing Loss at Age 39): I had this imperceptible disability that was affecting every aspect of my life.

    LAUER: Thirty-nine -year-old Jim McDade , like a true child of the '80s, grew up wearing headphones.

    Mr. McDADE: But I would go to bed with them on at night and I'd wake up at, like, 1 in the morning and my ears would be throbbing.

    LAUER: Like most people, Jim 's hearing loss developed gradually. In the beginning, he would turn to his wife for help.

    Jim McDade's Wife: In a group situation I would end up, like, speaking for him or giving him cues so that he would know what was being said.

    LAUER: And then as the years went on, Jim began to disengage from any social situation.

    Mr. McDADE: I was always afraid of missing something, or there would be an awkward situation and inevitably I would get caught. And it was a -- there was an anxiety to that.

    LAUER: Another big concern, the stigma of wearing traditional hearing aids , especially since he was starting his own fitness business.

    Mr. McDADE: I would rather have taken my chances without them than have them in and people make judgments on me.

    LAUER: Audiologist Shelley Borgia says it's a common concern.

    Dr. SHELLEY BORGIA (Audiologist): They don't want to admit that they have some level of difficulty. They feel that it's acceptable because it's acceptable to them.

    LAUER: Dr. Borgia says hearing loss isn't just about losing your hearing but losing your engagement with life.

    Mr. McDADE: She said, 'Look, if you don't do something about this, dementia is going to set in and your brain's just going to shut off.'

    LAUER: Hearing loss is irreversible. There is no cure, but you can slow down the process and even prevent it, which is why I decided to get my hearing checked. Every morning, in the right ear, we wear what is called an IFB , which is a little earpiece. This worries me. I wonder what this has done to my hearing. The first part of the hearing test is a physical examination. So this is going to tell you how much the eardrum is actually moving?

    Dr. BORGIA: Yes.

    LAUER: The next part of the test is the actual hearing evaluation, a series of tones I had to respond to.

    Dr. BORGIA: Ice cream.

    LAUER: And then a series of words I had to repeat.

    Dr. BORGIA: Baseball.

    LAUER: Baseball.

    Dr. BORGIA: Outside.

    LAUER: Outside.

    Dr. BORGIA: New York.

    LAUER: After just 20 minutes, some preliminary results.

    Dr. BORGIA: Your left ear is borderline normal hearing sensitivity. But the right ear has a mild high-frequency hearing loss , the right ear where you use your...

    LAUER: IFB , right. Is it in the range of normal for someone who's 53 years old, or has it been exacerbated, do you think, because of that?

    Dr. BORGIA: It probably has worsened due to the noise exposure.

    LAUER: For now, Dr. Borgia says I don't need a hearing aid , but has prescribed custom-made ear plugs for loud events. Jim McDade 's results were quite different. He had significant hearing loss in both ears, requiring hearing aids .

    Dr. BORGIA: Are we having ringing?

    Mr. McDADE: No.

    Dr. BORGIA: No?

    Mr. McDADE: It's good.

    Dr. BORGIA: They feel OK?

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah.

    LAUER: Jim 's hearing aids are called Lyric , but there are other choices, and they're nothing like those old beige bananas of the past.

    Mr. McDADE: When I heard the strength of my voice, it made me cry. It was as if I hadn't heard that voice in a very long time.

    LAUER: And now that Jim has regained that voice, he has a message he wants you to hear.

    Mr. McDADE: Get it taken care of. You don't know what you're missing. You don't know what you don't know.

    LAUER: Jim McDade and Dr. Shelley Borgia are with us this morning. Good morning to both of you.

    Mr. McDADE: Good morning.

    LAUER: Nice to see you.

    Dr. BORGIA: Good morning.

    LAUER: Why'd you wait so long?

    Mr. McDADE: Just comfortable in my own skin and you don't really -- you're not really aware of how -- that your hearing is disappearing. It happened so slowly over time , that it -- you know, you're just comfortable with who you are.

    LAUER: Yeah, but I was struck by something you said in the piece, Jim , and you said you didn't want people to be judging you.

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah.

    LAUER: And so -- yes, there is a stigma attached to this.

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah. Well, it's -- you know, someone in eyeglasses looks intelligent; someone with hearing aids looks handicapped.

    LAUER: Yeah. And so you didn't want that, especially with a fitness business.

    Mr. McDADE: I -- yeah, yeah. It's not how you want to be portrayed.

    LAUER: So turn sideways for me, because you've had these put in...

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah.

    LAUER: ...these Lyric put in.

    Mr. McDADE: And these have to be put in by a professional, right? I can't see them at all, by the way.

    Dr. BORGIA: Yes.

    Mr. McDADE: No.

    Dr. BORGIA: They're invisible.

    LAUER: And so once they go in, how long do they stay in?

    Dr. BORGIA: About three months at a time. So it has an extended-wear battery. It's hassle free. You wake up in the morning and you start your day just like anyone else.

    LAUER: Jim , are you like me? You go to a restaurant -- before these...

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah.

    LAUER: ...and if there's a lot of other noise in the background, you could be looking right at the person you're having dinner with and you're having trouble with that?

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah. Yeah, it's very loud but, you know, in certain situations it's good, but in that kind of a situation not so good.

    LAUER: So how do these cancel out all that other noise so that you don't just hear everything louder?

    Mr. McDADE: They've got some technology in there that just kind of focuses in on what I need to hear.

    Dr. BORGIA: They're very intelligent. And because the hearing device is all the way in the ear canal , you're using your natural ear to kind of filter out some of that noise.

    LAUER: Let's take a look at some -- of where these devices have come, OK.

    Dr. BORGIA: Mm-hmm.

    LAUER: This is the one on the table here that Jim has in his ears.

    Dr. BORGIA: Yes.

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah.

    LAUER: And tell me about some of these other devices.

    Dr. BORGIA: OK, so the one right next to it is another alternative to a hearing device. It's very discreet. It's basically invisible at the level of the ears.

    LAUER: OK, these are a little larger over here.

    Dr. BORGIA: Those are the older traditional hearing devices that...

    LAUER: That made him cringe just now.

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah. Yeah.

    Dr. BORGIA: Exactly.

    LAUER: Those are the ones that worried you.

    Mr. McDADE: I had to grow up in grade school with something like that.

    Dr. BORGIA: Mm-hmm.

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah.

    Dr. BORGIA: Those are the ones that no one wants me to prescribe.

    LAUER: Right.

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah.

    LAUER: I think a lot of people watching this, Doctor, might be thinking, first of all, 'How expensive are these?' and 'Are they covered by insurance?'

    Dr. BORGIA: Typically, they are not covered by insurance. The hearing examination is, so you should -- everyone should go and get a hearing exam. But the hearing devices are typically $ 1500 to $3500 per device. But...

    LAUER: Yeah, but they can change your life.

    Dr. BORGIA: It changes the quality of life . Yes.

    LAUER: And this is what you've made for me. My hearing loss is minor...

    Dr. BORGIA: Yes.

    LAUER: ...but it's particularly in the right ear, where I do wear this little IFB device.

    Dr. BORGIA: Mm-hmm.

    LAUER: And you want me to start to wear these earplugs when I'm around loud noises.

    Dr. BORGIA: Yes, I want you and everyone to wear those earplugs whenever you're exposed to noise, parties, events, weddings. It's very important.

    LAUER: Yeah, and I think that -- one of the things that was a little depressing to hear in the piece is that it's not reversible...

    Mr. McDADE: Yeah.

    LAUER: ...that once you lose your hearing, or some degree of your hearing, it's gone forever.

    Dr. BORGIA: Absolutely.

    LAUER: Well, hey, life change dramatically for you?

    Mr. McDADE: Yes, it's a -- it's a good experience now.

    LAUER: That's great. Jim , thank you for sharing your story.

TODAY contributor
updated 8/10/2011 9:30:33 AM ET 2011-08-10T13:30:33

Listen up — lean in if you have to: Hearing loss is a big problem in the U.S., and not just for old folks anymore. In fact, one in five American teenagers has hearing loss , a recent study showed. Worried your hearing is deteriorating? Dr. Madan Kandula, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Milwaukee, Wis., has some pointers on what to listen for.

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1. You're straining to understand conversations. The world is designed for normal-hearing ears. When one’s hearing begins to slip, it takes a major effort to accomplish what used to come naturally — hear.

2. Your family complains you watch TV at a too-high volume. As hearing loss creeps in, the volume bars on TVs, radios, etc. go up, up, up. For the person with hearing loss, this allows them to boost the sound to a range that they can hear. Meanwhile, their friends, neighbors and family members are blasted away by the excessive sound.

3. You're having problems hearing on the telephone. Hearing loss usually evolves gradually. Without knowing it, those with hearing loss begin to read lips and look for non-verbal clues. These crutches disappear when someone is talking on the phone.

4. Your ears are ringing. While not always a sign of hearing loss, ringing in the ears, called tinnitus, is always something to get checked out. The most common cause for tinnitus is hearing loss. Tinnitus is a common first sign that there is something wrong with the ears.

5. You've started to avoid social interactions. It takes at least two to communicate. When communication is a struggle due to decreased hearing, the natural response by many is to avoid placing themselves in the line of fire. People with hearing loss begin to retreat into a world of isolation, so that they don’t have to face the embarrassment of not being able to communicate effectively.

6. You're having trouble hearing noise that's in the background. People with ears that don’t hear normally have to strain to pick up every morsel of sound input. While this can work well in one-on-one situations, this technique backfires when there are additional sources of sound. For those with hearing loss, restaurants, bars and parties become walls of distorted sounds instead of fun, comforting gatherings.

7. You're misunderstanding what others are saying. If your ears are causing you to miss things, your mind tries to fill in the gaps. The result can be annoying and embarrassing to the person with hearing loss as well as those trying to communicate with them.

8. You're having trouble understanding the speech of women and children. Hearing loss most commonly starts impacting the higher frequencies of speech. Women’s and children’s voices start to fade into the background. People with high frequency hearing loss tend to prefer to listen to male speakers and often complain that the women and children around them either “speak too softly” or mumble.

9. You keep asking people to repeat themselves. When you don’t hear it right the first time, it’s easy to ask for a second try. While this can work a few times, the listener and the speaker tend to get annoyed pretty quickly when every other sentence is “What did you say?” or “Can you repeat that?”


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