In today’s column for “A Healthy Maricopa” I present a patient who discovered she had hearing loss. This is her story.
Johnson: What caused you to think you were experiencing hearing loss?
Dr. Kyle Stoeckmann: I was always asking my husband to turn the sound up on the TV and using the closed captioning to keep up. I was also having trouble hearing the “softer” low tones and understanding my husband. The kicker was when PA Jon came to work, I had difficulty hearing his low tones.
Johnson: How much time passed after you suspected you had hearing loss until you made an appointment to have it checked?
Dr. Stoeckmann: (Laughing) Years! I felt conflicted and worried about losing my ability to hear. I had heard that hearing aids could be expensive, cumbersome, and “noticeable.”
Johnson: What was your next step in managing your condition?
Dr. Stoeckmann: I made an appointment with a hearing specialist, and she asked me what were my biggest concerns. I said hearing my husband, hearing the TV, and using a stethoscope with hearing aids. My hearing specialist was very helpful and understanding. For the test she inserted special muffling earplugs with microphones into my ears. Then she ran a series of low- and high-pitched sounds testing for loss. She also tested my tolerance for uncomfortable, loud sound levels.
Johnson: Was this a time-consuming exam?
Dr. Stoeckmann: Within an hour she showed me the results. I was surprised that my right ear was worse than my left ear. I had thought the opposite. After the test, my specialist programmed a set of hearing devices and told us to walk around and try them out. I was amazed at how much better I could hear! It was like putting on my first pair of glasses.
Johnson: How have your patients reacted?
Dr. Stoeckmann: I have received a lot of positive support from patients. It frequently leads to a conversation about hearing loss in themselves or their family. I now have a new stethoscope that works well with hearing devices, resolving one of my biggest concerns.
Johnson: What have you learned as you explored hearing loss?
Dr. Stoeckmann: About one-third of the people in the United States between 65 and 75 have some degree of hearing loss. For those older than 75 that number is approximately 1 in 2. It’s easier to adapt to hearing aids as soon as you recognize hearing loss. It does require a period of adaptation because your brain is hearing sounds that you haven’t heard for some time. For example, I could hear my hair moving about after trying on my hearing devices. Soon my brain learned to process this as normal noise and I don’t hear it anymore. Hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline because your brain must work harder to decipher what is being said. Hearing loss can also lead to a decrease in confidence and sociability.
Brittany Johnson is a physicians assistant at Agave Family Physicians, 21300 N. John Wayne Pkwy., Maricopa.