Dr. Mallahan returned once again to the rural communities of Guatemala a few weeks ago in order to provide hearing healthcare to children with hearing loss. This time was a little different. Dr. Mallahan was accompanied by students in the doctoral program at University of Washington, some of whom have completed an externship in our office. The students were able to use their skills to test hearing and help with hearing aid fitting while learning the importance of charitable service. Thanks again to our wonderful patients who donated toys, soccer balls and colored pencils to the children!
Talking on the phone can be very frustrating for someone with hearing loss. The two main reasons are that the phone doesn’t relay the full frequency range of the human voice. In fact, some of the most important speech frequencies are completely missing. The second reason is because there are no visual cues. Up until recently, there was really no way to get around these issues other than to use a speaker phone or hope that someone else was home to hand the phone to. But now, those with hearing loss have the opportunity to use a visual cue of a different sort in order to help them understand on the phone.
With the development of Captioned Telephones, a person with hearing loss can now read, word-for-word, what the caller on the other end of the line has to say. The idea is similar to that of closed captioning for the television. Closed captioning is the written version of the spoken conversation. The person with hearing loss can read the captions while listening at the same time. In the same way, the captioned telephone lets the listener read what the other person on the phone is saying in real time while working, in every other way, like a typical phone.
If you’re having trouble hearing on the phone, ask us about this new telephone technology. The captioning itself as well as the phone are provided free of charge to Washington State residents through a Federal grant.
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Dr. Roque will be attending the Vestibular Assessment & Management Conference at the American Institute of Balance. It will be instructed by Richard Gans, Ph.D., one of the leading researchers and developers of vestibular evaluation and rehabilitation techniques for over 20 years. The conference will be held in Largo, Florida on December 7th through the 11th. The conference will focus on the newest methods to effectively and efficiently evaluate those with balance disturbances, utilizing a comprehensive approach for assessment and outcome recommendations. It will incorporate the latest techniques for tests already used at The Hearing & Balance Lab, such as Videonystagmography, Video Head Impulse Testing and Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potentials.
One of the more common questions I am asked as an Audiologist is whether two hearing aids are necessary. If you have hearing loss in both ears, known as bilateral hearing loss, you are more than likely to benefit from hearing aids in both ears. There are some good reasons to NOT wear hearing aids in both ears: no hearing loss in one ear, very poor hearing in one ear, very poor word understanding in one ear, for example. Your hearing healthcare provider is the best person to help you decide whether you should be wearing one hearing aid or two. Price, however, should never be a reason to wear only one hearing aid. I tell my patients I’d much rather they purchase a lower cost pair than a single high-end hearing aid, if cost is the issue. Imagine buying a Mercedes Benz and only purchasing two tires, or glasses with only one lens or only one shoe. We have two ears for a reason and there are things that the ears can do when working together that they cannot do when working alone. Let me share with you some of the reasons why two hearing aids are better than one.
Better understanding of speech
By wearing two hearing aids instead of just one, you may notice you can better focus in on one speaker in a difficult listening situation where multiple people are talking at the same time. In other words, your brain can focus in on the conversation you want to hear. Research shows that wearing two hearing aids significantly improves speech understanding in noise compared to people who wear only one hearing aid.
Better ability to tell where sounds are coming from
Being able to tell where sounds are coming from is called localization and is one of the more important functions of binaural hearing. Suppose you drop something on the floor and it rolls away from you. Equal hearing between the ears will allow you to better determine where the object you dropped actually went. More importantly, localization helps you determine from which direction a siren is coming in traffic. Localization can be very important to your safety.
Better sound quality
When sound enters the ears and is then passed up the hearing system to the brain, the brain completes what is called binaural summation. Binaural summation means that sound is actually much louder than the sum of the individual ears once it is processed by the brain. For a simple word picture to explain this: one plus one does not equal two when we’re talking about binaural sound processing in the brain, it’s more like one plus one equals three and a half. This summation improves the volume of the sound but also gives the perception of “stereo” sound quality. By wearing two hearing aids, you also increase your hearing range from 180 degrees reception with just one amplified ear to 360 degrees (surround sound).
Keep both ears active
Research has shown that when only one hearing aid is worn, the ear without a hearing aid tends to lose its ability understand clearly. This is the old adage, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” In Audiology, we call this auditory deprivation. Wearing two hearing aids is important in order to keep both ears active.
When most of my patients ask if they can “get by” with one hearing aid, my answer is yes, you can “get by”. But it’s not the best solution for most hearing losses and can often aggravate some of the more common reasons for getting a hearing aid in the first place, like wanting to hear better in noise. Before you decide on one hearing aid, try two. I’m positive you’ll be convinced that two is better than one.
Am I Losing My Mind?
Have you noticed it takes a little longer lately to understand what someone is saying? Is your response usually “What?” Then, a few seconds later it’s as if a light switch turns on, something clicks, and it suddenly makes sense. When you have hearing loss, asking someone to repeat themselves can become a habit. But what if the lack of understanding is a slowdown in how the brain is working, or even short-term memory loss?
A common question patients ask is if hearing loss and memory loss are related. New research from Johns Hopkins University and National Institute on Aging (Archives of Neurology, Feb 2011) found that seniors with hearing loss were much more likely to develop dementia over time. The greater the hearing loss, the stronger the relationship. It is hypothesized that the lack of consistent language stimulation is a major contributor to dementia. I call this “the use it or lose it law.”
Hearing loss happens so gradually you may not even recognize it. In fact, someone else may have recognized it before you did. During those years your hearing was declining, it may be that your brain was not receiving the full stimulation it needed, and therefore, began to deteriorate.
The Johns Hopkins study doesn’t answer the question of whether hearing loss might be a cause of dementia or if hearing loss simply accompanies dementia. It also doesn’t answer the question of whether hearing aids might be able to decrease the likelihood of dementia.
It seems clear that once you have recognized that a hearing loss exists, the next best step is to start using hearing aids. Why risk it? Make sure you are hearing your loved ones, and your brain is staying stimulated. There are so many things we can’t control, but this is a no-brainer. Do something that not only improves your everyday quality of life, but has the potential to increase your brain’s ability to make sense of words far into the future. Make an appointment today and invest in your future.