A few years ago, I had a bit of an epiphany. After spending the bulk of my career (and youth) selling advertising for trade magazines in the music industry, I had to face some hard truths. Print magazine budgets were slowly becoming obsolete in favor of much less expensive digital offerings. My industry as a whole had consolidated and changed in a way that constantly left me feeling like I was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I decided it was time to jump ship.
Several weeks of soul searching, research and networking later, I decided to dust off my degree in audiology and finally put it to use. Somewhere in my heart, I always knew I would go back and finish what I started so many years ago. The good news was that I had the benefit of more than two decades in an industry where hearing conservation was always part of the conversation. Everything I had learned in my career up to that point gave me the foundation I needed to be successful in the hearing health industry.
Cut to almost five years and one global pandemic later, I am now a practicing hearing instrument specialist, licensed in the states of New York and New Jersey. I am currently working for Miracle-Ear, one of the largest longest-running (70-plus years) hearing health organizations in existence, and managing my own office in Teaneck.
Teaneck is a big melting pot where I see everything from Orthodox Jew, Latina, Jamaican, to Russian, Italian, Irish and Greek. The interesting thing about hearing loss is that it is an equal-opportunity disability. It does not discriminate between ethnicity, age, religion, sex or economic standing. As diverse as the population is, the end result is the same: hearing loss in one or both ears, be it mild, moderate, severe or profound, needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
The challenge with hearing loss is that it happens so slowly over time. Often we don’t realize or want to acknowledge there is a problem until it starts to interfere with our everyday life. And even then, the excuses still flow. “Everybody mumbles,” “He’s a low talker,” “I can’t hear because of the masks” … I’ve heard ’em all.
As a rule of thumb, we try to encourage first-time patients to bring a family member or loved one with them for moral support. Family members can be extremely valuable in the initial consultation because no matter the ethnicity, denial is a huge obstacle in getting someone the help they need. Often a spouse or adult child can provide information the patient is not willing to share, and they can give a more realistic view of what is really going on. I liken it to stepping on the scale. No one likes to admit they have put on a few pounds, but until you face the reality that you have gotten heavier, and see that number on the scale, it is likely you won’t do anything about it. The same rings true for hearing; having a loved one for support can help get someone over the excuses and on to getting the help they need.
Trying to pretend you don’t have hearing loss can be exhausting and stressful. It takes a lot more energy to listen or follow a conversation when the words are not clear to you. Many families tell me of arguments, frustration and just giving up on conversations all together. From patients, I often hear stories of loneliness, depression and feeling left out at social gatherings. Memory issues, anxiety, depression and a decline in cognitive function are also due honorable mention along with balance issues. In fact, someone with even mild hearing loss is three times as likely to take a fall, and that likelihood increases as the degree of hearing loss increases.
Many studies have been done linking dementia and Alzheimer’s to hearing loss as well. In short, left untreated, not only does your hearing get worse, but so does your overall well-being and quality of life.
It is important to recognize the early signs of hearing loss. Some of the most common indicators to look for include:
- Hearing but not understanding certain words.
- Misinterpreting and inappropriately responding during a conversation.
- Thinking people are always mumbling or not speaking clearly.
- Confusing consonant sounds.
- Frequently asking people to repeat.
- Difficulty hearing on the phone.
- Turning the TV up so loud, others are complaining.
- Changes in social behavior, not wanting to be around friends or family.
- Withdrawing from social situations all together.
Hearing aids have come a long way. There are now very discreet styles in a multitude of colors, technology levels and price points. Most come rechargeable and with Bluetooth, making streaming phone calls, music and games much more enjoyable. In fact there was a long period of time before my mom had hearing aids; talking on the phone with her was not only excruciating, but almost impossible. Even with the aid of a Caption Call read-out phone, the conversation could not flow. I wanted to share my life with her, but it was extremely difficult. I hate to admit it, but I didn’t call as often as I wanted and I lost a lot of time because of it. When my mom, who has lost over 50% of her hearing, invested in a pair of hearing aids with Bluetooth technology, I was finally able to begin to repair our relationship. Talking on the phone to her now is a pleasure. I’m happy to report that we have daily conversations and are really enjoying a much closer relationship.
A hearing evaluation by an experienced hearing health specialist should be added to everyone’s list of annual check-ups. Catching hearing loss early can be a game changer. Not to mention, screenings can detect other health issues that may have gone otherwise unnoticed. Hearing only gets worse with time, and like most health issues, the sooner you begin the rehabilitation process, the better the result.
Karen Godgart is an experienced hearing instrument specialist, licensed to practice in both New York and New Jersey. She holds an undergraduate degree in speech pathology and audiology from The University of Connecticut and did her graduate studies in audiology at UC San Diego. She is currently working for Miracle-Ear, one of the oldest hearing care companies in existence, running the Teaneck, New Jersey Office. When she is not helping people live their best life, you can find her hiking, traveling or listening to live music somewhere (of course with hearing protection)!
She is currently offering free hearing screenings and evaluations in her Teaneck office. Please call for an appointment: Miracle Ear Hearing Aid Center, 179 Cedar Lane, Suite D, Teaneck NJ. (201)-530-7532.
Martin F.N./Greer; (2015) Introduction to Audiology, 12th edition.
International Hearing Society (IHS), Hearing Loss Association of America, National Institute on Deafness Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA).