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I remember a time my little brother and I were staying at my grandparents while my parents were out of town. My brother wanted to play hide and seek, and my grandpa enthusiastically joined in. My brother started counting, and my grandpa and I ran off to hide. After several minutes, I was found, but my brother was struggling to find Grandpa, so we looked together. Ten minutes passed and we couldn’t find him. We started calling out his name, telling him he had won and to come out. No response. We eventually found him in one of the second floor bedrooms. He was hiding patiently behind one of the beds with his eyes closed.

I tapped him on the knee and said, “Grandpa, you won.”

He sat up and half yelled, “Huh? I can’t hear you! My hearing aid fell out!”

This week is Hearing Aids Awareness Week within September’s Healthy Aging Month. In an effort to help raise awareness, we set out to learn more about hearing loss and hearing aids. We were surprised to learn that hearing loss is actually quite common.

According to Hearingloss.org, 20% of adults in the U.S. report having some degree of hearing loss. And by age 65, one out of every three seniors struggle with some form of hearing loss. According to WebMD.com,  hearing loss is on the rise and is the third most common health problem in the U.S.

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Hearing loss can happen to anyone. The most common cause for hearing loss, nearly 70% of cases, is aging. Just as vision gets poorer as we age, so does our hearing. This type of hearing loss is typically labeled as sensorineural hearing loss, also known as nerve deafness, where the nerves are no longer as strong or sensitive as they once were. If you are wondering if you have hearing loss, you can take a preliminary test here.  But the best thing to do would be to visit your doctor for an audiological exam.

Hearing aids greatly help improve an individual’s ability to hear. They amplify the sounds around them. While they are much more sophisticated than a simple amplifier, this is their basic function, and there are two different kinds of hearing aids: digital and analog.

Analog hearing aids are becoming less and less common as technology advances. FDA.gov describes analog hearing aids: “These hearing aids essentially amplify all sounds (e.g., speech and noise) in the same way. Some analog hearing aids are programmable. . . As the listening environment changes, hearing aid settings may be changed by pushing a button on the hearing aid.”

Digital hearing aids are the newer, state-of-the-art hearing aids. FDA.gov describes these are similar to analog hearing aids, but different in that “they convert sound waves into digital signals and produce an exact duplication of sound.” Another reason digital hearing aids are so advanced is their ability to “focus” on certain sounds. The FDA explains that digital hearing aids contain computer chips that “analyze speech and other environmental sounds.” Digital hearing aids do much more than simply amplify the sounds around them. “They also have greater flexibility in hearing aid programming so that the sound they transmit can be matched to the needs for a specific pattern of hearing loss.”

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Because digital hearing aids are more flexible with what they can do, most doctors will now only recommend digital hearing aids for their patients. However, the new digital hearing aids are more expensive than their analog counterparts. If you find that you need a hearing aid, ask your doctor about both options and choose the best for your situation and needs.

Very often when people begin to struggle with hearing loss they become reclusive and will deny for up to five years that there could be a problem. Part of coping is acknowledging the reality that hearing loss is a fairly normal thing. Hearing aids help those with hearing loss return to a quality of life that is enjoyable, and help them feel able to participate with loved ones and friends once again.