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Over-the-counter hearing aids are increasing options and affordability

Thanks to FDA approval, InForum columnist Carol Bradley Bursack notes that over-the-counter hearing aids are a new option for those suffering from hearing loss.

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Dear Carol: My Dad lives alone in the same condominium he and Mom shared before she died. While Dad’s always been somewhat introverted, he has close friends and is friendly to those he meets. For the most part, he seems content. Lately, though, he seems to be avoiding groups. Also, I’ve noticed that when I accompany him to his medical appointments, he struggles to hear the doctor. We tell him that he should get hearing aids, but he says his hearing isn't that bad, and aids are too expensive. How do I convince him that his life would be better if he’d go ahead and buy hearing aids? – AG

Dear AG: Age-related hearing loss is often accepted as a simple inconvenience, but it’s much more than that. While most hearing loss can’t be reversed, hearing aids can make an enormous difference in the quality of a person’s life. A major barrier has been the cost, which can run into thousands of dollars. Thankfully, that is changing.

The FDA has recently approved over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids that can be purchased without a hearing test or prescription. This long-awaited change will make it far easier for people like your dad to buy hearing aids for a few hundred dollars. These aids are not meant for people with severe hearing loss, but they are bound to make hearing easier for millions of older adults with mild to moderate hearing loss, and those who can’t afford to buy prescription aids. New regulations will create a category of hearing aids that supersedes state-level regulations often requiring patients to get a prescription and special fittings.

Reasons to treat hearing loss abound. While no one should be forced to socialize unnaturally, being able to hear others clearly makes nearly all encounters more pleasurable. Better hearing can also enhance life in simple ways such as hearing birds outside one’s window or little children playing nearby. Obviously, better hearing enhances critical elements of life, as well, including the ability to clearly understand one’s doctor.

Hearing loss can affect balance which is vital to older adults who may already be more prone to falls due to medication side effects or joint pain. A fall can cause a serious injury that leads to disability or even death.

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Hearing loss has been shown to increase one’s risk of developing dementia. Some of this effect might be from self-isolation. Socialization aside, though, better hearing affects how well we interact with the greater world in terms of everyday life. Hearing also allows us to take part in learning experiences online and in person which can, in turn, enhance memory.

Share this information with your dad, AG. Maybe he’ll look into these less expensive aids. At the very least, consider a “Pocket Talker” for him. These inexpensive devices amplify the sound closest to the listener while reducing background noise. A Pocket Talker would help your dad with medical appointments as well as increase his enjoyment while he watches TV. Good luck getting through to him!

Read more columns from Carol Bradley Bursack
This week, Carol Bradley Bursack explains ways to assess if an older relative's cognitive abilities are starting to decline or staying strong.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver and a nationally-recognized presence in caregiver support. She's the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” a longtime newspaper columnist and host of her blog at mindingoureldersblog.com. Carol's an introverted book nerd, so you won't see her mugging in viral videos, but you can easily reach her using the contact form at mindingourelders.com.
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