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"Mom, please get hearing aids!"

My sister and I frequently discuss and ponder the question, "Why won't Mom just get hearing aids; she can NOT hear?" I am not exaggerating when I say that this problem has been going on for probably 10 years. My sister has been serving as mom's personal hearing aid at doctor's appointments and shopping excursions for years. At first, mom simply denied having any hearing loss. Missing parts of conversations and frequent "HUH?"s were blamed on various causes other than aging ears. Her steadfast belief that the entire population of Maryland has a problem with mumbling is just classic. Now, she acknowledges some decline in function. Clogged ears and wax build is the current culprit--- nothing a thorough cleaning won't remedy!

It turns out that my mother is not the only senior in denial about hearing loss and the potentially serious consequences. According to a recent publication by the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, the average person ignores hearing problems for 7 to 10 years before consulting with a physician. Even more astounding, is the fact that of the 26.7 million people over the age of 50 with a hearing impairment, only 14% use hearing aids. One Johns Hopkins physician was quoted as saying "If you think you have hearing loss, you probably do." This made me chuckle. The guy quite clearly has not met my mother. The question is, " How do you get a senior person to take hearing loss seriously and take action?"

Most adults expect to lose hearing ability as part of the aging process. If nearly all of us develop some degree of hearing loss, it can't really be that harmful, right? Actually, hearing loss can lead to several serious problems.

Help your parents avoid these consequences of hearing loss:

* The ear plays a key role in balance. Even mild hearing loss can cause instability and triple the risk for falls.

* Hearing loss may increase the risk of dementia. Some studies suggest that mild hearing loss can double the risk while severe loss can increase the risk by 5. When people lose hearing function, they tend to become more isolated which is yet another risk factor for dementia.

* Delay in treatment can make the hearing loss worse. Its like anything, when you do not use a skill or sense, you can "lose it".

The good news is that today's hearing aids are more discrete and more effective than earlier models. They are not perfect, however. Sound quality in noisy environments can be disappointing and frequent trips to the audiologist may be necessary for adjustments and reprogramming. Still, most seniors report positive results overall after getting fitted for hearing aids.

We're still working on our mom! Good luck with yours!

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