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The Hearing Aid Process

On average an individual with gradual, progressive hearing loss will wait approximately 7 years after noting difficulties before seeking help. While a gradual hearing loss may not require the same swift response as chest pain or a broken leg, 7 years is way too long to wait to address hearing and communication issues. Hearing takes place in the brain, and improving auditory stimulation sooner rather than later can improve overall outcomes for hearing help options. In this article, we will look at the “hearing aid process” of a typical patient who may be pursuing hearing help options.

The Initial Appointment to Learn About Hearing Aids

Once a patient has decided to seek help for hearing loss there are two basic options for getting an appointment set up: Self-referral to an Audiologist or medical referral through a primary care physician/specialists. If hearing loss is the only complaint, a self-referral directly to an audiologist can save time and multiple office visits. An audiologist should always complete a comprehensive evaluation and be able to refer to a primary care physician or specialists if needed.

At the initial visit, the audiologist will ask general health-related question and get information about specific communicative concerns, complete a comprehensive hearing evaluation to look into a potential hearing loss, and counsel the patient about the results and offer recommendations for hearing help options. If hearing aids are recommended and the patient is wanting to move forward with help, the hearing aids will be ordered and a hearing aid fitting appointment will be set up.

The Hearing Aid Fitting Appointment

Typically, the hearing aid fitting appointment is scheduled about 1 week after the initial visit. At the fitting the audiologist will set up the hearing aids according to the patient’s hearing loss and make sure everything is comfortable. Several tests will be run to assure the hearing aids will not experience feedback and that they are fit appropriately for the hearing loss. After everything is set for the initial programing of the hearing aids the audiologist will go over care and maintenance of the hearing aids with the patient as well as all the contract and warranty information. After the fitting appointment, a 1-2 week follow-up appointment is usually setup.

Follow-up care for Hearing Aids

During the first month following the fitting appointment it is common to have several follow-up appointments to make adjustments to the hearing aids based on the patient’s specific needs and to move through the adaptation process as their brain adjusts to the new way of hearing. Once the hearing aids are set properly and the patient is doing well, most audiologists will continue follow up care every 4-6 months to check in with the patient and provide preventative maintenance for the hearing aids. It is also common to re-test a patient’s hearing every 1-2 years or if any major changes are noted. If hearing changes over time most hearing aids are able to be reprogrammed to compensate for the decrease in hearing. The average life expectancy for a pair of hearing aids is 5-7 years.

If you or a loved one have noticed increased difficulties in communication or a reduction in hearing, Call ENT Audiology Center at (325) 437-3617 to set up your comprehensive hearing evaluation. ENT Audiology Center, “Helping You Hear Better So You Can Live Life Better”.


A look into the “world” of hearing aids

We all know who manufactures quality TVs, cars and clothing, but what about hearing aids? In general, I do not suspect that the general population keeps up with ins and outs of the hearing healthcare industry. In this article, we will look into the “world” of hearing aid manufacturers and what to look for when deciding which hearing aid may be best for your needs.

The “Big Six” hearing aid manufacturers

There are six major hearing aid manufacturers in the world today: Widex, Starkey, Phonak, Signia (formally Siemens), Oticon and Resound. These have quality products that, in the hands of a hearing healthcare professional, can provide excellent improvements for a patient with hearing loss. Of these six manufacturers two (Widex and Starkey) are privately owned companies and one (Starkey) is U.S. based. These manufacturers have good research and development for new technologies and they are all able to take care of patients with a wide variety of hearing losses. If you purchase a hearing aid from one of these manufacturers, you can be assured you are receiving a quality product. Most audiology clinics work with these major manufacturers and can provide services for patients who use them.

Does the manufacturer of your hearing aid really matter?

For one patient recently seen through our clinic, the answer would be a resounding “Yes.” Like many individuals, this patient purchased a pair of hearing aids from a retail hearing aid store and had good results until they had to relocate and found that their hearing aids could only be adjusted or worked on by that specific retailer. The retailer did have options from the major manufacturers but chose to fit their “private label” hearing aids that locked the patient into their service. Had this patient been better informed, a different hearing aid might have been requested that would have allowed for improved follow-up care and less headache in the future.

While it is important to know what you are getting when it comes to hearing aids, your overall success with hearing help options is largely due to the skill of the audiologist you are working with and how well the two of you together are able to talk through and meet those needs in follow up appointments. Many audiologists choose 1 to 3 hearing aid manufacturers that they believe to work well for their patients and focus their abilities on those specific products. Trust your audiologist and his or her recommendations, but don’t be afraid to ask questions when it comes to selecting your hearing aids.

If you or a loved one have noticed increased difficulties in communication and are ready talk about options for improving your hearing, Call ENT Audiology Center at (325) 437-3617 to set up your comprehensive hearing evaluation. ENT Audiology Center, “Helping You Hear Better So You Can Live Life Better.”


Hearing Loss and Cognition

When counseling patients about their hearing loss, I like to discuss two aspects: The noted or tangible communicative difficulties and the less noticeable potential cognitive issues associated with untreated hearing loss. It is a common assumption that as an individual experiences a reduction in hearing, he or she will have greater difficulty communicating with others. In this article, we will be looking at the “behind the scenes” issues of how untreated hearing loss can have more than communicative implications on overall cognition and brain health.

Lack of Auditory Stimulation

Auditory information is processed in specific portions of our brain and when a hearing loss is present those portions of the brain are not being stimulated as they should. Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D. of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has conducted significant research on the correlation between hearing loss and cognition. In Dr. Lin’s research, he looks at the difference in brain structure changes between individuals with normal hearing and those with hearing loss. Dr. Lin indicates that the lack of auditory stimulation can cause the brain to atrophy at increased rates.

Changes in Cognition

The effects of these changes to the brain are often seen in respect to a patient’s Word Recognition testing. Word Recognition testing measures a patient’s ability to correctly identify and repeat an open set word list. It is common to see a patient’s score drop over time even if his hearing loss remains stable. Patients who are consistent with their use of hearing aids give themselves the best opportunity to prolong such a decline. Hearing aids are not intended to “fix” a hearing loss but rather to help patients compensate as best as possible and to help maintain stimulation to the brain.

In his research on the changes hearing loss may have on the structures of the brain, Dr. Lin concluded, “If you want to address hearing loss well, you want to do it sooner rather than later. If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we’re seeing on MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place.” These underlying effects of hearing loss are often overlooked when discussing recommendations for hearing help. I encourage patients to talk with their audiologist or other healthcare professionals about the relationship between hearing loss and cognition.

If you or a loved one have noticed increased difficulties in communication and are ready talk about options for improving auditory stimulation, call ENT Audiology Center at (325) 437-3617 to set up your comprehensive hearing evaluation. ENT Audiology Center, “Helping You Hear Better So You Can Live Life Better.”


Hearing aids come with a cost, but improved hearing is priceless

Hearing loss is common among Americans, but few seek treatment right away. Understanding your options to improve hearing can be a difficult process. Contacting a local audiologist is the best place to start as they possess the education and clinical training to care for patients with many different hearing difficulties.

Audiology is one of the most challenging – yet rewarding – professions, per Dr. Hamlett of ENT Audiology Center in Abilene. “As an audiologist, I have the unique pleasure of counseling patients on their options for improving their quality of life through the use of amplification,” said Dr. Hamlett.

But improving that quality of life requires commitment. While patients do want to hear better, few like the idea of wearing a hearing aid. Some of this reluctance has its roots in stereotypes about getting older, but cost can also be a major factor for many patients looking to improve their hearing.

The Best Hearing Care for Your Money

When purchasing a hearing aid, patients are not only putting their money and faith in a small electronic device, but rather the ability of the audiologist to tailor the appropriate device to their unique needs. The patient is not just purchasing a hearing aid but also auditory rehabilitative services and continued care that is crucial to the overall success of the hearing aid experience.

“This can have a big impact on the quality of life for a patient. It is so important to have trust and confidence in your hearing health care provider,” said Dr. Hamlett. “I always recommend using an audiologist for hearing aid services. The experience and expertise of a clinical professional can drastically improve the outcome for any patient.”

In the age of retail stores and online shopping, hearing aids have been misrepresented as a commodity and not a medical device. This misrepresentation can cause many patients to be swayed by the potential short-term savings. But as with many things, purchasing a pair of hearing aids based on the cheapest price or best advertised “deal” can often lead patients to frustrating outcomes. “If a patient does not have good follow-up care and support from the provider who sold you hearing aids, you most likely did not get the most out of the money you spent,” said Dr. Hamlett.

Hearing Aid Costs

“On average, a good quality pair of hearing aids from a reputable manufacturer is going to cost between $2,500 and $6,000,” said Dr. Hamlett. “The major factor in the range of pricing has to do with the computer chip and the amount of processing power the hearing aid will have to better meet your communicative needs.” In other words, more sophisticated technology means a higher price point.

If that price tag seems intimidating, it is important to keep in mind that this cost covers services that can ultimately contribute to long-term comfort and hearing ability. There is much more involved in the process than simply picking out a device, putting on the hearing aid and walking out the door. There are usually several follow-up appointments with your audiologist and continued regular care to ensure a positive outcome with your new hearing aids.

“An approximate breakdown of the cost of a new hearing aid is something like this,” said Dr. Hamlett. “60% of the total price accounts for the actual hearing aids, 10% is the cost of the initial fitting process, 10% is the cost for the first 30-60-day evaluation period and follow-up adjustments and the last 20% is the continued care through the warranty and maintenance for the life of the hearing aids.”

If you or a loved one have noticed increased difficulties in communication and are ready talk about options for improving your hearing, Call ENT Audiology Center at 325-437-3617 to set up your comprehensive hearing evaluation.

-This message brought to you by www.entaudiologycenter.com

How Hearing Loss Affects Communication

Not all hearing loss is equal. While the end result may be a diminished ability to process sound, the way it affects an individual’s ability to communicate is not necessarily the same. We hear with our brains, not our ears, and the way an individual’s brain processes and interprets the sounds in their environments is unique. The type of hearing loss — or where damage to the auditory system has occurred — can determine the resulting communication difficulties.

Different Types of Hearing Loss

Many people who have lived first hand with hearing loss may not be aware of the vast difference between other people and their own experiences. Hearing loss has a wide variety of causes and manifestations. Onset can be sudden or gradual. The loss can occur in one ear or both ears. The effect can be temporary or permanent. There can be underlying medical issues or more common age-related changes.

ENT Audiology Center and ENT Specialists of Abilene can diagnose, effectively treat and manage most hearing loss issues. With any suspected hearing loss issue, it is important to seek professional help from an audiologist to effectively diagnose and treat the condition. The earlier a hearing issue can be treated, the better long term outcomes for communication can be expected.

Most cases of hearing loss can be classified as Sensorineural or Conductive. And while each case is unique, some generalizations can be made in diagnosis and treatment based on these two categories.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss is due to problems of the inner ear or the auditory nerve. Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) can be a function of the normal aging process, noise exposure or as a result of another medical condition. This permanent type of hearing loss accounts for majority of patients who use hearing aids.

When dealing with a SNHL we must look at two components: the severity of the loss across the spectrum of sound and how that loss affects a patient’s communication. Essentially, this means that patients suffering from SNHL may have trouble with only certain kinds of sounds – like high pitched sounds, for example – and this may inhibit the way the patient is able to communicate. These two aspects do not always affect the patient in a predictable pattern, meaning no two patients are exactly the same.

Even if SNHL remains stable over many years, speech comprehension can decline as a result of lack of stimulation. In other words, if the patient cannot hear certain aspects of speech, their ability to process and comprehend speech will decline over time. It is for this reason that pursuing hearing health options is always advocated as a “sooner, rather than later” healthcare option.

Conductive Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss that is due to a functional abnormality that does not allow normal sound transmission to the inner ear. Common causes of conductive hearing loss include: Cerumen (Ear Wax) blockage, fluid buildup in the middle ear space (possible ear infection), perforation of the ear drum or abnormality/defect with the bones of the middle ear. Conductive hearing loss (CHL), in many cases, is treatable by medical or surgical intervention.

When CHL cannot be medically treated or shows to be a chronic issue, hearing help is often a treatment option. Unlike SNHL, there is no permanent damage to the inner ear or hearing nerve. Because the inner ear/nerve is intact, patients with CHL often have an easier transition to amplification. The system can process sound in a more normal process once the functional abnormality has been identified and corrected. In other words, CHL is more of a “volume” rather than a “processing” issue.

If you or a loved one have noticed increased difficulties in communication or a reduction in hearing, Call ENT Audiology Center at (325) 437-3617 to set up your comprehensive hearing evaluation. ENT Audiology Center, “Helping You Hear Better So You Can Live Life Better”.

For more information visit ENTAudiologyCenter.com

Asymmetrical Hearing Loss

For the majority of the population, progressive hearing loss affects both ears equally. The balance or symmetry between ears is very important to how the brain interrupts and processes what we hear. What happens when there is not a good balance between ears? What can be done to improve the hearing of a patient with an asymmetrical hearing loss?

Factors of an Asymmetrical Hearing Loss

There are many factors that can cause a permanent asymmetry in hearing, including: trauma to one side, infections in the inner ear or brain, otologic diseases such as Meniere’s disease, sudden idiopathic hearing losses, or tumors. Any significant difference in hearing should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Once an asymmetrical hearing loss is medically cleared, the rehabilitative process can begin.

Key factors in the treatment of asymmetrical hearing loss are: the degree of loss measured in both ears, the functional ability of the brain to process speech information from each ear, and the patient’s subjective perception of hearing from each side. It is very important to get a comprehensive evaluation that can look at these aspects of the auditory system.

Hearing Loss Treatment Options

There are many different treatment options depending on the above factors but the goal is always the same: Improve balance between the ears and increase communicative abilities. Treatment options include: traditional hearing aids for one or both ears, a CROS or Bi-CROS hearing aid system, or a surgical procedure such as a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA).

If speech comprehension can be improved and equalized between ears, a traditional hearing aid is often the best option for treatment.

If there is a complete loss of hearing with no benefit from amplification on one side, we are able to use a CROS (Contralateral Routing of Signal) hearing aid to create the perception of hearing on the worse side. A CROS hearing aid is worn on the “bad” or worse hearing ear and sends sound information to the better hearing ear to be processed. The CROS system is essentially “tricking” the brain to think that it is hearing from both sides. This system allows many patients to have improved localization to where a sound is coming from and can improve hearing in difficult listening environments. The BAHA is a 2-part system (external processor and implant for retention) that is mainly used for conductive hearing loss and single sided deafness.

If you or a loved one have noticed increased difficulties in communication or suffer from an asymmetrical hearing loss and are ready talk about options for improving quality of life, Call ENT Audiology Center at (325) 437-3617 to set up your comprehensive hearing evaluation. ENT Audiology Center, “Helping You Hear Better So You Can Live Life Better.”

For more information visit ENTAudiologyCenter.com

Talking to Your Parent About Their Hearing Isn’t Easy – Take Advice From ENT Specialists

Though aging is an inevitable and universal part of life, the changes to our body are not always easy to accept right away — especially when an age-related change impacts everyday routines and relationships with loved ones. For adult children, that sometimes means a reversal of parent-child roles and having to bring up delicate subjects, like hearing impairment.

“When an individual has a hearing impairment, it changes the way he or she hears everyday conversations, which can lead to frustration for both the individual and others in their life,” said Dr. Steven J. Hamlett, who heads the Audiology department for ENT Specialists of Abilene. “No one wants to have difficulties in communication, and most people are reluctant to seek help.”

When approaching the subject of hearing impairment with a parent or loved one, he or she may feel embarrassed or reluctant to talk about it, as health and well-being are personal topics. It is common for an individual to offer an excuse for their hearing difficulties as defense mechanism, said Dr. Hamlett. Common responses include: “Everyone is just mumbling,” “I hear everything I need to hear” or “They just need to speak up.” However, he cautions that accepting these answers and not continuing the conversation “can hinder an individual from taking responsibility for a deficit that can often be improved.”

If you’re looking for help about how to talk to your parent about their hearing, Dr. Hamlett said you first need to understand how hearing loss affects communication — then how to talk to loved ones about seeking help before it’s too late.

To maintain your relationship with your loved one and ensure he or she can continue to live a rich, full life, it’s important to have this potentially uncomfortable conversation.

Hearing Loss and Communication

If your loved one shares that people sound like they are mumbling or not enunciating properly, or if they have difficulty hearing in the presence of background noise (such as in a crowded restaurant), these can be signs of a high-frequency hearing loss, said Dr. Hamlett. High-frequency hearing loss is one of the most common types of hearing loss and can be a result of noise exposure throughout one’s lifetime or the normal aging process. Many of the consonant sounds within the English language tend to contain higher pitches, and it is these consonants that help us identify differences in words and provide clarity of speech when we have full hearing capabilities.

“When an individual has a high-frequency hearing loss, some of these consonant sounds get filtered out, which causes speech to become unclear,” said Dr. Hamlett. “Your parent may report a more ‘mumbled’ sound quality. Likewise, if speech is unable to be heard clearly, the brain can have more difficulties processing a difference between what is speech and what is noise in difficult listening environments.”

Your loved one may have trouble following the conversation when your extended family is all gathered around the dinner table, or he or she might not like going out to crowded, noisy environments. To maintain your relationship with your loved one and ensure he or she can continue to live a rich, full life, it’s important to have this potentially uncomfortable conversation.

How to Help Your Loved Ones with Hearing Loss

While talking to a loved one about any potential health issue is challenging, broaching the subject of hearing loss may be especially difficult, due to the negative stigma or correlation it has with aging. However, Dr. Hamlett has advice for handling the situation with compassion and empathy to help ensure a favorable outcome for both of you.

“When talking to a loved one about the possibility of a hearing loss, it is important to focus on how the loss may be taking away from his or her quality of life,” he said. “Instead of using blame statements like ‘you can’t hear’ or ‘you need a hearing aid,’ try to focus on the possibility of improvement.”

Dr. Hamlett suggests choosing your words carefully, with statements such as “I feel you could be hearing better than you currently are” or “I want you to be more comfortable engaging in conversations” to help start productive conversation rather than creating tension or resentment. And don’t push, he said, as it can have the opposite effect you’re trying to achieve. “It is very important to make sure an individual is ready and willing to seek help before setting an appointment with an audiologist,” Dr. Hamlett said. “If a patient ever feels he or she has been forced to seek help, outcomes can be limited and help may be rejected for an extended period of time.”

If you or a loved one have noticed increased difficulties in communication and are ready to talk about options for improving your hearing, call ENT Audiology Center at 325-437-3617 to set up your comprehensive hearing evaluation.

– This message brought to you by www.entaudiologycenter.com

Want to feel more confident as you adjust to new hearing aids? Here are 4 expert tips

Deciding to take control of hearing loss is a major decision that can positively impact both your ability to communicate and your overall quality of life. Choosing to work with an experienced audiologist to select the right hearing aid for your lifestyle is the first step toward regaining independence and confidence.

“Hearing aids can give a patient the confidence and motivation to stay active and engaged,” said Steven J. Hamlett, Au.D.

Withdrawing from social events is a common sign and side effect of hearing loss, he said, due to decreased confidence in one’s ability to communicate. Hearing is also essential to environmental awareness, so hearing aids can improve our sense of safety and well-being.

“Sounds such as sirens, alarms, rattlesnakes, babies crying and doorbells can all be missed by an individual with untreated hearing loss,” he said. “The world is a noisy place full of sounds that are extremely important to our everyday life.”

Hearing aids allow the world around you to come alive and give you the ability to once again tune in to the relationships that matter to you. But, while you might be excited to immediately have your hearing back, there is a natural adjustment period with new hearing aids.

“Hearing aids are not like reading glasses, where you can put them on and all is well at once,” Hamlett said.

However, Dr. Hamlett has some advice to help you feel more confident with new hearing aids, so your life can return to “normal” as quickly as possible.

Your relationship with your audiologist is just starting when you get your new hearing aids. He or she will be an advocate for your hearing health.

Manage your expectations and understand the process. “No hearing aid fitting will ever be successful if the patient is not emotionally and psychologically ready to start the process of improving his or her hearing,” said Dr. Hamlett. Before you get your hearing aids, share your concerns and fears with your audiologist, who can provide answers and peace of mind.

Regaining your hearing is a process. “Your brain must relearn how to take in sound and make sense of this new way of hearing,” he said. “A successful fitting is much more likely to occur when the patient has realistic expectations about outcomes and a true desire to do what is needed to improve his or her hearing.”

Asking questions and setting goals with the audiologist is very important, both at the initial appointment and throughout the entire process.

Stay in touch with your audiologist, and don’t be afraid to ask for adjustments. Your relationship with your audiologist is just starting when you get your new hearing aids. He or she will be an invaluable resource during the first few months after your fitting.

“The fitting process is unique to every patient, and therefore it may take some time and extra follow-up visits to meet the patient’s needs,” said Dr. Hamlett. “Too often, the patient will give up before issues have a chance to be resolved.”

Hamlett encourages patients to be open and honest, sharing any problems that arise, no matter how small they might seem. This is your experience, and he is there to ensure it is an enjoyable one.

Be patient and don’t skip follow-up appointments. Dr. Hamlett emphasizes that the weeks following your initial fitting are crucial to long-term confidence and success with your new hearing aids. It is common to have several appointments during that time to adjust the hearing aids to your specific needs, so don’t skip any of them. He is there to help each patient move through the adaptation process as their brain adjusts to this new way of hearing.

Take care of your hearing aids — and your hearing. While the newfound freedom and independence your hearing aids provide may make your hearing loss feel like a distant memory, Hamlett stresses the importance of preventative maintenance to ensure continued success.

“Once the hearing aids are set properly and the patient is doing well, most audiologists will continue follow-up care every four to six months,” he said.

Expect to have your hearing retested every year or two, and if anything changes during that time, your audiologist can reprogram your hearing aids as needed. The average life expectancy for a pair of hearing aids is five to seven years, said Dr. Hamlett.

If you or a loved one have noticed increased difficulties in communication and are ready talk about options for improving your hearing, call ENT Audiology Center at 325-437-3617 to set up your comprehensive hearing evaluation.

Hearing Aid Myths

As an audiologist I work with patients and their hearing aids on a daily basis and have the pleasure of seeing how lives can be transformed for the better with the use of hearing aids. Not everyone who comes through our office is excited or thrilled to be fitted with hearing aid, though. Truth be told, no one really “wants” to wear hearing aids. How great would it be if no one had to deal with a debilitating hearing loss? What amazes me is how many misconceptions and “bad experience” stories patients talk about during their consultations. Let’s take a look at some common hearing aid myths and why they are not true.

Big Hearing Aids and “Old” People

If I get hearing aids everyone is going to see them and think I am old. While some people may still believe hearing aids are for “old” people, I have never really understood this unfair stereotype. This idea becomes very silly if we put it in perspective. What if we apply this to same stereotype to other common disabilities: “I choose not to see, because glasses are for old people,” “I choose not to be active because canes/walkers are for old people,” “I choose not to hear because hearing aids are for old people.” Why do we let the possibility of a negative thought or comment limit our quality of life? We are also able to make hearing aids much smaller and more discreet these days. I have yet to work with patients who return their hearing aids and comment that they really enjoyed hearing, but it’s just not worth the way they look.
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Hear the Holidays!

With the Holiday season now in full force, hearing can become even more important to individuals. No one wants to miss out on family gatherings and social events due to a hearing loss. A hearing loss can cause much frustration and added stress to an already busy season. Looking to improve hearing and getting the extra help needed to manage those difficult listening environments can provide a great sense of relief and improvement in overall quality of life.

The first step …

When seeking options for treatment of a hearing loss, it would always be advisable to seek help from a licensed Audiologist as he or she has a more complete training and working knowledge of the auditory system. A doctor of audiology specializes in management and rehabilitation of hearing disorders. In case a hearing loss is connected with a more complex medical issue, the involvement of an Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat physician) may be required.
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