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During the Holiday Season, Good Hearing Equals Glad Tidings

(with thanks to Carolyn Smaka, Au.D., Associate Editor, Healthy Hearing)

Sleigh bells ringing, children singing, and all the other happy sounds of the holiday season. Question is: can you hear them?

All the way to the New Year, families and friends will be getting together for joyful – and noisy - celebrations. But if you have an untreated hearing loss, all the laughter and conversation around you will not exactly be music to your ears. Instead of feeling closer to your family, just the opposite may be true: Because you can’t hear them and fully participate in conversations and festivities, you may spend the holiday season feeling isolated and sad.

Now is the time to prepare for the holidays. And we don’t mean going on a shopping spree.

Oh, silent night

True, sometimes silence is golden – like when your ears are under assault from dangerously loud environmental noises and you are wishing for some peace and quiet. But living in silence or hearing only muffled sounds is not healthy for your mental and emotional well-being. Don’t just take our word for it - numerous studies have consistently shown that untreated hearing loss has a negative impact on relationships, as well as on social and work-related interactions, leading to feelings of embarrassment, loneliness, isolation, and even depression.

That’s the bad news. On the flipside, there is a plethora of encouraging evidence – both scientific and anecdotal - to suggest that use of assistive technology with hearing loss improves all aspects of our lives. One research study, for instance, noted that with daily use of hearing aids, a considerable number of study participants experienced improvement in hearing and quality of life within six months.

So there is no reason or excuse to wait any longer – getting your hearing tested should be the first item on your holiday “to-do” list.

Know the Signs of Hearing Loss

If you think your loved ones are mumbling, think again.
By becoming aware of the signs of hearing loss, you will know if it is time for you to make an appointment for a hearing evaluation.

The following are common signs of hearing loss:
*Turning the TV or radio up louder than previously
*Missing parts of conversations while in a group setting
*Able to hear but can’t always clearly understand all the words spoken
*Asking people to repeat what they say
*Perception of persons mumbling or sounding muffled, especially females and/or children
*Difficulty hearing speech in background noise

If any of these are all too familiar for you or a loved one, don't worry, you are not alone. According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) it is estimated that nearly o1 in 10 Americans has some degree of hearing loss. That jumps to 1 in 3 if you are over the age of 65.
Hearing loss is not uncommon and a hearing test is one of the simplest medical appointments you can make.

What’s all that noise?

Holiday parties and family gatherings can be noisy and present you with difficult listening situations. Persons with hearing loss often will gradually begin avoiding noisy environments and isolate themselves from the festivities that once brought them happiness. If you think you have hearing loss or have been told you do following a hearing test, your best option is to consider hearing aids to improve your listening in any listening environment, including while in background noise. But for those who are not quite ready to take the plunge with hearing aids, there are strategies to combat background noise and hearing loss. Background noise can cause listening difficulty even for persons with normal hearing, so for persons with any degree of hearing loss, the difficulty is often greater. The problem with background noise is it distracts our brain’s ability to focus on what the person next to you is saying, because you are subjected to competing noises such as people at nearby tables, music, or laughing. But that is no reason to give up on all the holiday cheer. Instead, you can learn to hear better in social settings by following these simple rules:

*Pick a quieter restaurant over a noisy sports bar.
*Choose a table in the calmest part of the restaurant, away from the kitchen, bar, wait service stations, etc.
*Remember that even people with normal hearing experience greater difficulty in a noisy environment than they do in a quiet one. So it is only normal that you hear more noise in a loud restaurant than in the quiet of your home.
*Whether you are celebrating in a restaurant or at home, sit with your back to the window, so that lighting is on the speaker's face, not in your eyes.
*If the music is too loud – as it sometimes tends to be at parties - ask your family to turn down the volume. Very loud music that drowns all the other sounds is not just uncomfortable for you; it is harmful to everyone.
*While at the dinner table ask your family and friends to take turns speaking and to face so you are able to use the visual cues from looking at their face.

All I want for Christmas Are a Pair of High-tech Hearing Aids
Yes, the latest hearing aid technology provides a multitude of options allowing us to hear better and clearer, while minimizing the pesky background noise so common during family get-togethers. Hearing aids have improved immensely through the years, especially within the last few years thanks to advancements in digital technology. Digital signal processing allows hearing aid manufacturers to better control the processing of sound and amplification. The benefit to the end user is an improved and more natural sound quality, and control over issues such as noise. For example:

*Hearing aids with digital signal processing (DSP) differentiate between speech and noise, lowering the volume for signals identified as noise while maintaining the volume for speech. This improves overall wearing comfort and helps to improve the quality of speech.
*Hearing aids with a directional microphone allow the user to switch the hearing aid from a setting that picks up sound from all directions - front, back, and sides - to one that picks up primarily sounds coming from the front of the hearing aid user. As a result, less background noise penetrates.

When purchasing hearing aids keep in mind our brain is wired to utilize and integrate sound from both of our ears, so consider purchasing two hearing aids. Two is better than one, especially when listening in situations where the background noise is high.

Happy Holidays Are Hearing Holidays

Now that you know how important good hearing is during the holidays – and at any time of the year, of course – and are aware of how to maximize it, put this knowledge to good use. Before you start carving a turkey or trimming a tree, make sure your hearing is clear enough to enjoy and participate in all the festivities to the fullest.

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