After the sudden, dramatic drop in temperatures overnight, today was beautiful in North Texas. It seems two things happened overnight with our trees—some decided to shed all their leaves almost at once, while others suddenly burst into color that would rival the best New England has to offer (well, maybe). I sometimes go two or three days without seeing the front of our house, so I was astounded today to see that the new Chinese pistache is a brilliant red gold, while the oak towering behind it is a deep, rich red. Wish I’d taken a picture. Meanwhile, my patio is literally ankle-deep in pecan fronds—that’s right, not individual leaves but fronds. The patio was blown clear twice yesterday and this morning it was covered again.
A bookstore sandwich board photographed in an online newsletter this morning referred to this as the season when we transition from spooky anxiety to festive anxiety. I really liked that.
Today I have named myself the unofficial poster child for hearing aids. I had an overdue appointment with Tracy, the audiologist at TCU’s Miller Speech and Hearing Clinic. She tested my hearing, though she didn’t say much about the results, and I suspect there’s little change in the two years since I last saw her. What she did say, and has said countless times before, is that it’s important that I wear my hearing aids even when I’m alone and not listening to anything. My brain needs to adjust to using them. If I take them off, say after supper, my brain shrugs and says, “What’s the use of trying?” A hearing challenge is not just an auditory problem—it involves brain function, and everyone reacts differently.
We talked about things and situations that make hearing difficult—no louder is not better. And yes, sometimes, I can hear words distinctly but not comprehend them. That too is a matter of brain function. I think maybe she was trying tactfully to say something about slowing down with aging, but I told her it’s not any worse now than it was seven years ago when I first saw her. I don’t have an exact figure, but I suspect I’ve worn aids for twenty years or more.
I asked about the new ruling that lets companies sell aids over the counter, and she compared those to readers. If you need just a little help, they’re great; if your hearing loss leans toward major, you need more sophisticated—and expensive—devices. And if you have problems with your devices—like a tinny sound—an audiologist can often adjust them to meet your needs. I mentioned that one of mine keeps falling out of my ear—she not only said she’d noticed that, she adjusted it.
About fifteen percent of Americans (some 37 million of us) suffer some degree of hearing loss. It can be sudden or slow in developing, temporary or permanent. Mine developed because of a combination hormonal therapy—I saw note of a study that determined it in the paper one morning and was the first to tell my doctor. He confirmed it by reading medical journals.
Too many people refuse to get hearing aids. You know them--they say they can hear fine, thank you very much, or it’s too expensive and their insurance won’t cover up. Or it’s too complicated and they couldn’t manage adjusting them, cleaning them, etc. Speak up, they tell you, and stop mumbling. It’s puzzling but many people stubbornly resist the idea of hearing aids when they have no qualms about wearing eyeglasses. I think it’s ego driven, maybe associating hearing loss with aging, but it’s a dangerous denial (and some two or three of every hundred children have hearing loss to some degree, so it’s not for the elderly alone). The biggest complication of untreated hearing loss is social isolation which can, especially in the elderly, lead to depression, anxiety, and dementia. Seems logical that lack of social stimulation opens the gate for those problems. Too many who can’t hear sit back, withdraw, and end up not participating in the world around them. What begins as slow mental deterioration accelerates without stimulation. Statistics tell us untreated hearing loss is also related to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, even stroke.
For the last six years, since surgery necessitated that I use a walker, I’ been an advocate of mobility devices, especially for those of us who are aging—cane, walker, transport chair, scooter. Use those things. To walk without balance is to risk falling. And one bad fall can tip an older person down that slippery slope to invalid status or worse. I’m also an advocate of alarm devices—a watch a pendant, whatever—for those who live alone. So now I’m adding hearing aids. When, if ever, did you have your hearing tested?
You don’t want to go into this festive season saying, “Pardon me?” every time someone wishes you “Happy Holidays”