Episode 13 What’s Your Hearing Worth?

The Transcript

Dale Johnson: The Conversation Starts Here on KFOR FM 103.3/1240 AM. Welcome, again. We’re always happy to have you here. Dr. Sandra Miller from Complete Hearing is by my side to talk about your hearing wellbeing. Dr. Miller, thank you very much.

Dr. Miller: It’s great to be back again.

Dale Johnson: I have as much fun doing research for conversations as I do because I learn something every time.

Dr. Miller: Yes.

Dale Johnson: You drop some ideas. Back and forth, we’ll send emails during the week. And Dr. Miller always comes up with good talking points. And one of the subjects that drew me down the path of research is what is your hearing worth? And I was amazed, pretty somewhat all-knowing guy, I know a little bit about a lot of different things, but I really didn’t realize just how much of an impact a hearing issue has on everything from your personality to job opportunities.

Dr. Miller: I can’t wait to hear what you found out.

Dale Johnson: Fewer educational opportunities come to people who have a hearing issue.

Dr. Miller: Very true.

Dale Johnson: And so then I started to go down that path. Why?

Dr. Miller: Well, if you think about that hearing gives us access to so many things in regards to, whether it’s our relationships, our ability to communicate, your ability to learn, if you’re not hearing correctly, you’re not learning correctly. So just when we talk about hearing and hearing loss, we say it always has an effect on your emotional, your social, your financial wellbeing. And it’s impacted in so many different ways. So if you’re at a job and you’re not reporting your numbers correctly, or you’re having to lean in at a meeting and always asking, “Can you repeat that? What is that?” we find that that creates a little bit more strain and then you may socially withdraw, or you may say, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to go to that meeting today. I’m not going to be able to follow the information on what’s going on.” And then your boss isn’t very happy with you. So people don’t understand that it has so many impacts just in every aspect of your life.

Dale Johnson: And switching jobs, too, it impacts job opportunities.

Dr. Miller: Exactly. Yeah.

Dale Johnson: If you’ve been in a noisy environment and now you’re changing careers for whatever reason, and you apply for a position in a more quiet setting, sometimes that hearing loss prevents you from gaining opportunity.

Dr. Miller: Exactly. So think about being interviewed, and are you hearing all the questions accurately, and are you responding appropriately? When you’re changing venues, what does that look like for you in terms of communication needs? A lot of our patients have jobs where they’re on the phone a lot. Well if you have hearing loss, phone use is going to be one of the more difficult things too. So there’s avenues that we can help with that. But you have to think about, my hearing acuity is important to everything that I do, on the job, relationships, communication, top to bottom.

Dale Johnson: Can hearing play a role in memory?
Dr. Miller:  Absolutely. So we talk about that you hear your brain and we’ve said that for several weeks. And if you think about when you don’t hear as well, you use the thinking part of your brain to hear. And that means you’re straining, you’re concentrating. And then that puts cognitive load, is what we call it, on the brain. And that just means your brain is having to work overtime. When that happens, you have a situation where the brain is starting to not function as well, and you can’t remember as well, and your recognition is not as good and it has long-term effects. So we are seeing this very high correlation between untreated hearing loss and dementia.

Dale Johnson: And it also impacts a person’s personality. Someone can be outgoing and gregarious and the life of the party, but if you can’t hear the party, what’s being discussed, frustration, irritability sets in, stress.

Dr. Miller: Oh, absolutely. We see it a lot in our clinic where we see, once we have hearing corrected, that they say, “He’s a brand new person. She’s completely back to the way she used to be.” The hard part, too, is we also see in a situation where people think mom and dad are having maybe some memory loss or they’re not engaged and they think it’s not tied to hearing. And so sometimes we have these misdiagnoses happen, oh, I think she might be depressed or she’s not engaged, and she’s withdrawing, is this something more emotional or mental health-wise? And sometimes it could just be a hearing issue. And if we get them hearing well again, they’re back engaged, they’re figuring out, oh, this is what was missing. I’m not saying that’s always the case, but, boy, that’s one of the things we always need to look at when we’re starting to see some of those mental health, social/emotional kind of factors coming to light.

Dale Johnson: How often do you find that a patient, and I don’t know how you would even find this out, but a patient may go down the dementia road when it’s not dementia, it’s hearing.

Dr. Miller: I don’t have a statistic for you.

Dale Johnson: But I can imagine that that happens.

Dr. Miller: It absolutely happens. I would tell you that my mom has dementia and I would tell you she gets access to every great hearing aid because she has an audiologist for a daughter. But I would tell you that she was not somebody who would typically wear it. And so when I would go home to see her, she lives 8, 10 hours away, but she would completely re-engage. Every time I put a new device on her, she would engage, completely engaged. It was such a night and day difference I could see, but because she wouldn’t wear it every day, that engagement went slowly away. And so it was very much that in the beginning, it was very, very helpful. But for our patients who come in and we see this huge personality change, it’s so rewarding number one, but also so eye-opening number two, the family for sure. And we just find that we want to make sure we get that brain re-engaged and can we slow the process of dementia or can we slow this through engaging their brain back through hearing.

Dr. Miller: There’s lots of research coming out to kind of say, is this truly happening? Because this is really at a point now where we need to look at this to say we know there’s a very high correlation between the two, of not having a hearing aid and having hearing loss and dementia. Now, if we put a hearing aid on somebody and get them re-engaged back into the world, does it slow this process? So I’ll keep you posted on that. Because that’s kind of where research is going currently.

Dale Johnson: Oh, but people are asking Dr. Miller, they’re saying, “Dr. Miller, I can’t afford hearing aids. I can’t afford that.

Dr. Miller: Oh, my goodness. That is such a good way to kind of talk about this too. Because I think that one thing is there’s a lot of misconceptions out there about the cost of hearing aids. So I think it’s a really important thing that we talk about accessibility. If I know I’m thinking I might have hearing loss, I don’t want to come see you because then I just don’t even want to … I can’t afford that. And so I want to tell you we have a solution for everyone. And whether that solution is something that I can help you with, whether we have to look at something inexpensive online, over-the-counter, we’re going to find a solution that works in your budget. And so I think it’s important that listeners know that what do you think about when you think about FDA stamp of approval? Like what do you think when you hear that?

Dale Johnson: Well, I think that there’s been research, the government’s behind it. They give me their thumbs up and it’s safe.

Dr. Miller: Exactly. What it comes to, something you can buy for a hearing aid, there’s a whole lot of confusion out there, so I want your listeners to know in 2020 the FDA actually passed some legislation that they’re going to have an over-the-counter hearing aid available in 2020. And my patients say to me, “Yeah, but Sandra, I can already buy something over-the-counter.” And that’s where the confusion is going to come in, so please know that the government is trying to work through some legislation and put out some guidelines for hearing aids that are FDA approved.

Dr. Miller: What I need you to know about that is they’re not out yet, and so you’re going to hear companies touting that they have the first FDA approved hearing aid, and you can buy it at Walgreens. That’s truly not happening. And so we have some false advertising going on. I think for your listeners what happens is there’s a lot of confusion that goes on over that. So please know that the FDA is involved and that’s a good thing. We as audiologists support this for a couple of different reasons. There’s some who don’t, but I would tell you I definitely support it.

Dr. Miller: What it’s going to do is it’s going to be kind of like readers. So you think about going to Walgreens or wherever it might be, I just need a little bit of help just to pick up that little bit of print on the newspaper. What I would tell you, this is not going to require an examination that we know of, no prescription. But I encourage my patients, just educate yourself. This is just a little bit of a help. When you think about buying something like this over-the-counter, and again, it’s already available to you, I don’t know when the FDA comes out with their stamp of approval and these hearing aids are now available, is that going to make a difference? I’m hoping it doesn’t confuse the consumer. If I buy something over-the-counter, how does that hearing aid even know how to work in my ear? If there’s no prescription, what is this even going to be like?

Dr. Miller: And I would tell you since the regulations and laws haven’t come out from the FDA, we don’t even know what it is yet. We don’t even know how it’s going to be set. We don’t know what it’s going to look like. So there’s a lot of hype around this currently in the audiology industry and hearing aid industry. And there’s many not so honest people out there currently trying to promote this even before it’s even been available. So number one, I would tell the listeners, educate yourself, educate yourself, educate yourself. And we are more than willing to help you along the education line.

Dr. Miller: So we think the benefits of having something that’s going to be FDA approved is going to really increase the access to hearing aids. And so people say to me, “I can’t afford this,” this creates a little bit easier access. It’s self-fitting. The nice thing is it’s going to be FDA approved. So like you said, there’s some research behind it. There’s a team of people that have gotten together to say, “Is this appropriate?”

Dr. Miller: But there are risks to this. What is the risk to having something that’s self-fitting? We don’t know how severe your hearing loss is. We don’t know if you have more hearing loss in one ear or the other. There’s no guarantee that they’re going to be programmed correctly for you. So pending on how much this is going to cost, which I think it’s going to be in the hundreds of dollars, what are you buying and what’s the guarantee? So that’s always our concern for that.

Dr. Miller: And I think that I would tell you anytime that somebody buys something online or they bought something over-the-counter, we are always more than willing to support it in our office. Please bring it to us so we can help you along the way. We don’t care where you bought at, what you bought, we have a pretty general idea of how we can help you. And then we never want you to feel bad. We’re so grateful you just even took the first step. And if you bought something that you’re having questions about or, “Sandra, it stopped working. I don’t know what to do with this,” please bring it to us so that we can go and help you along the way.

Dale Johnson: All right. Educate me, please.

Dr. Miller: Educate you.

Dale Johnson: Use used some terms, self-fitting.
Dr. Miller: Self-fitting.

Dale Johnson:
And neutral.

Dr. Miller: Well, think about that it’s not going to be customized to your hearing loss. So think about it being like an amplifier.

Dale Johnson: Amplifier.

Dr. Miller: Yeah. It’s going to amplify everything the same. And what’s very interesting about hearing loss in general, when people do have hearing loss, it’s typically not the same at every pitch.

Dale Johnson: No.

Dr. Miller: It tends to be better in the low tones and more severe in the high tones. So if you’re fitting something on your ear that’s not even made for the shape of your loss, how happy are you going to be? Well, you might do better in some situations, but for the most part, I always say it’s just going to be that little help to get you through those general areas. But when you’re thinking about how much am I going to spend there, let’s talk about the cost-benefit to that. It helps me, but, boy, it doesn’t help me where I really struggle. Most of my patients say, “I struggle most when I’m in a loud environment, I’m in a restaurant, I’m with my grandchildren.” If that hearing device is not meeting the needs of your specific need, is it worth the investment of trying something like that? And you have to decide that.

Dr. Miller: The major difference we’ll talk more about too is that in our office we do something called real ear measures, big fancy word. We put a microphone down inside your ear. We measure how much gain is going at every single pitch of your hearing loss and so then we can customize all the handles to make sure that you’re getting appropriate amplification for the low, the mid, the highs and everywhere in between because it’s kind of like an equalizer like you have on your stereo. We want to customize it to every pitch to give you maximum benefit. The only way you’re going to get maximum benefit with anything you purchase online, over-the-counter, with us is to make sure we have that measurement done.

Dale Johnson: I equate it to readers. You used that term, readers from Walgreens.

Dr. Miller: Yes.

Dale Johnson: If you’re thinking I’m getting readers for your ears, a starter hearing device.

Dr. Miller: Exactly.

Dale Johnson: Give Dr. Sandra Miller a call at Complete Hearing. They are located at 4200 Pioneer Woods Drive in Southeast Lincoln. That’s approximately northeast of 70th and Pioneers. And check them out too at complete-hearing.com. And every Saturday morning we’re here on The Conversation. Starts Here. Talk next week, Dr. Miller.

Dr. Miller: See you then.