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Health

Here's to better hearing

Technology has made some hearing-aids almost undetectable. Judy Hobson explores what’s on offer and how to choose

With people living longer, increasing numbers will spend half their lifetime suffering from hearing loss. The big question, according to David McAlpine, professor of auditory neuroscience and director of the Ear Institute at University College London, is how this will affect our cognition. 

Research by a US gerontologist who looked at the hearing of a group of people in their sixties found that those with only mild hearing loss had less cognitive ability.

“It is clear the two are linked,” the professor says. “We already know that when people experience hearing loss they start to withdraw socially.” There can, however, be a ten-year gap between someone first noticing problems with their hearing and going for an assessment.

“One reason,” he says, “is that people don’t know what they’re supposed to hear. Losing your hearing isn’t as obvious as not being able to see clearly because you have a cataract developing. Another factor is that today 60 is regarded as the new 50 and people don’t want to look old by having to wear a hearing-aid.”

However, with more and more of us suffering from hearing loss and wearing an aid, Gemma Twitchen, senior audiology specialist for the charity Action on Hearing Loss, believes the stigma attached to having one will finally disappear. “Today,” she says, “no one takes any notice if someone is wearing glasses. In the very near future we’ll be just as used to seeing people with hearing-aids because so many of us will have them.”

Wearing an aid these days is like having a mini-computer in your ear. Advances in technology over the past five years mean the latest models adjust automatically to different noise levels as you move around.

Indeed, some are so tiny and fit so snugly inside your ear they are almost undetectable.

However, with more than 1000 models of hearing-aid to choose from, people can, understandably, feel overwhelmed when they have to choose one for the very first time.

Rob Ormerod, audiologist for Boots Hearingcare in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, says: “It doesn’t simply depend on the type of hearing loss you have, it also depends on your lifestyle and your personal preference. For example, some older people whose eyesight is failing may find it easier to handle a more visible aid that takes a larger battery.

“While ‘invisible’ aids are attractive, the main priority for people is getting back some hearing and being able to communicate effectively again. The fact they are missing out on conversations with friends and family means they’re keen to try an aid.”

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