Hearing Loss in Older People – An Interview with Dr. Nina Byrnes from Hidden Hearing

- We would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Dr. Nina Byrnes for granting us this interview. We hope ...

– We would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Dr. Nina Byrnes for granting us this interview. We hope you will find it as informative as we have.

1. Dr. Byrnes. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I have been working full-time as a GP since 2005. I am a partner in Oakwood Medical Clinic, a new doctor’s surgery in Castleknock, Dublin. When I’m not in practice I’m also involved in teaching Trinity medical students. I present the RTE health show ‘Health of the Nation’ and write the health column ‘Medical Matters’ in the Sunday Business Post Agenda magazine. This year I began working with Hidden Hearing as their Medical Liaison Officer. In my work as a GP I see that hearing loss and untreated hearing loss are significant issues. My role with the company is to promote better hearing health.

2. Is hearing loss an inevitable part of the ageing process?

The accepted figure for people with hearing loss in Ireland is 1 in 6. However, as people get older, say over the age of 60, hearing loss typically affects 1 in 3 people, so it is a very common problem. However, with modern digital hearing aids, hearing loss can be easily addressed. Researchers have found that digital hearing aids offered people a 40% improvement in hearing and quality of life. My advice is if you suspect you may have a hearing loss, go to your GP or book a free hearing test at any one of over sixty Hidden Hearing branches and clinics nationwide. While hearing loss may be more likely as you‘re older, suffering from it should not be inevitable.

3. What are the most common causes of hearing loss in older people?

Hearing loss can often be caused by a blockage in the outer or middle ear, or both, which could be caused by an infection or wax build up or other factors. This type of hearing loss can be temporary in nature and in some cases may be treated medically or surgically.

If the hearing loss is Presbyacus, also known as age-related hearing loss, there is a problem in the inner ear or auditory nerve, which affects the hair cells that detect soft, high-pitched sounds, so it can be very difficult to hear speech clearly, especially when there is competing background noise. This type of loss is permanent; however it can usually be addressed with hearing aids. In this case the first step on the road to better hearing is to take a hearing test to determine the type and level of hearing loss you have.

4. Is hearing loss progressive?

Yes in some cases hearing loss can get worse over time. This type of hearing loss can be caused by a number of factors. The majority of progressive hearing loss is passed on genetically. Noise-induced hearing loss can also be progressive, with continued exposure to loud noise.

However, all forms of hearing loss can have a negative effect if left untreated. Untreated hearing loss can affect the brain’s ability to remember common everyday sounds.  Once hearing has started to fade, the brain stores sounds up to three years and after seven years this memory becomes weaker. Delaying treatment can therefore seriously affect the rehabilitation process for patients once treatment is sought, as the ‘’new’’ sounds can be disorientating and confusing.

5. Are people reluctant to admit to hearing loss? Is denial a problem?

In my experience as a GP, and this experience would be echoed throughout Hidden Hearing’s 60 hearing centres, is that people typically ignore their hearing loss and delay seeking treatment for many years. There are many reasons why people delay in seeking treatment for a hearing loss. People often see it as part of the ageing process, so don’t do anything about it. Also, as hearing loss happens gradually overtime, people learn to adapt and cope

Sometimes people don’t realise just how advanced treatment has become. There may also be a stigma attached to hearing loss and wearing hearing aids. In many cases people don’t realise that hearing aids have become so advanced and discreet, you’d never know someone is wearing one. Yet despite this fewer than 20% of people, who could benefit from hearing loss treatment, actually seek treatment.

6. What are the social consequences of continued neglect of hearing loss?

Delaying treatment for any medical condition, whether a hearing loss or another condition is never a good idea. We need to ensure that those who aren’t hearing as well as they used to, continue to lead fulfilling and active lives. If you are struggling with your hearing, often people develop coping mechanisms, conversation can place a great strain on them and people can even stop socialising and start to become isolated.

As hearing loss usually develops over time, its often family and friends who first notice the hearing loss and therefore can play a key role in encouraging people to take a hearing test.

On Testing

7. How can one arrange a hearing test?

You can arrange to have a free hearing test at any one of Hidden Hearing’s 60 hearing centres nationwide or call free on 1800 882 884 or visiting www.hiddenhearing.ie for further information.

8. How much does a hearing test cost?

A no obligation hearing test with Hidden Hearing is entirely free. A hearing test takes approximately one hour and includes questions on your medical history, an examination of your ears, a speech mapping test and expert advice. A full hearing test report will be sent to participants’ GPs. Hidden Hearing recommends that a friend or family member accompanies you to the hearing test and consultation.

9. Can a hearing test be done at home?

Yes, you can arrange to have a free hearing test in the privacy of your own home by calling free on 1800 882 884.

On Hearing Aids

10. On average, how much does a hearing aid cost?

Hidden Hearing provide a range of digital hearing aids, offered at various prices to suit our customers’ budgets and hearing loss. Hidden Hearing offer entry level digital hearing aids starting at €295, but prices can rise to say €1,000/ €2,000. Hearing aids can be an expensive investment and I know that Hidden Hearing always ask that customers bring a companion for their hearing test and all consultations – both for support during the test but also buying a hearing aid should be a family decision.

11. Can you give a brief description of how a modern hearing aid works?

The new generation of modern hearing aids use computer processing and multidirectional microphones to pick out speech from a noisy environment, so the important speech element is filtered back to the wearer. And if you are using two hearing aids, both devices communicate with each other in real time, so they adapt in sync to the noise environment. To improve people’s experience of using mobile phones, TVs, radios and other audio and entertainment devices, some new digital hearing aids can even connect wirelessly to these devices so you have a seamless hearing experience. Things have certainly moved on for the best.

12. Is a hearing aid easy to use?

Yes, hearing aids are extremely easy to use. At Hidden Hearing, the audiologist will assist in choosing the right hearing aid to suit the customer’s lifestyle and will guide them through how the hearing aid operates. Hidden Hearing also provides an outstanding aftercare service which includes a five year warranty, a 90 day money back guarantee and free batteries for life. Two follow up visits are included to ensure that the customer is comfortable and happy with the hearing aid and that the device is fine-tuned to suit their every day life.

13. How visible is a hearing aid device?

Hearing aids can differ in size and appearance. Often negative perceptions of hearing aids are fueled by memories of older, analogue hearing aids. The new digital hearing aids are so much more technologically advanced and discreet; they are often invisible to other people. ‘In The Ear’ hearing aids are the most popular style recommended by Hidden Hearing. These hearing aids are custom made for each patient. An impression of the inside of your ear is taken by the Audiologist to ensure that the shell of the hearing aid is made to exactly match the contours of your ear.

About Hidden Hearing

Hidden Hearing is one of Ireland’s premier providers of hearing healthcare in the private sector with a national network of over sixty branches and clinics. With modern testing facilities, qualified hearing aid audiologists, state-of-the-art audiological equipment and hearing devices, free aftercare service and a 90-day money back guarantee, Hidden Hearing is committed to providing their customers with a professional hearing healthcare service.

For more information or to book a free hearing test, call 1800 882 884 or visit www.hiddenhearing.ie