Hearing loss affects 1 in 3 Canadian adults.
When we stop to think about how losing one’s hearing affects not only the person with auditory challenges but the people around them – family, friends, colleagues et al – it is not an exaggeration to say that nearly every person is affected in some way by hearing loss.
In fact, hearing loss ranks in the top five “years lived with a disability” in Canada, making it one of the most common and prevalent disabilities in society.
Impacting this further is the fact that hearing loss is progressive and debilitating, and – in most cases – irreversible.
That’s why it is vital to:
- recognize as early as possible when hearing loss has occurred
- take steps to prevent further hearing loss (and/or prevent hearing loss in the first place)
- get a hearing test and assessment
- find a solution to augment and assist one’s hearing
Hearing aids are a highly effective solution to hearing loss, providing people with hearing difficulty an assisted means of hearing the world around them.
In this resource page, we’ll delve into hearing loss, its causes and consequences; then we will explore solutions to hearing loss – and how to go about finding a hearing aid that best works to offset your hearing loss and restore the sounds of your world.
Why Is Hearing Loss Devastating?
For many of us, hearing is one of those things we take for granted in life.
Imagine waking up in the morning, however, and not being able to see the sunrise.
What if you couldn’t smell the aroma of fresh coffee brewing, breakfast cooking in the kitchen and flowers blooming in the garden?
Consider the prospect of not being able to drive to work, school or anywhere else because you couldn’t feel the steering wheel with your hands or sense the gas and brake pedals with your feet.
And what if you lost your sense of taste and could no longer enjoy your favourite foods?
Chances are, if you are reading this resource page on Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids, we probably don’t need to ask you to “imagine” what it would be like to:
- not hear what is being said to you
- miss out on conversations
- have difficulty watching a video, TV show or a movie
- feel disconnected from the world around you because you’re missing out on the sounds of life
But if you’re here out of concern for a loved one who is suffering from hearing loss, those examples should paint a better picture of what that person is going through.
Losing a Connection to the World Around Us
Hearing is one of the most important senses we have. It is a connection with the world around us, providing a major component of the communication loop by sending signals to the brain of everything happening in our surroundings.
When we lose our ability to hear – either gradually (which is the most common) or through a specific event – we lose the connection with the world around us.
What’s more, hearing loss affects nearly every area of one’s life.
Someone with hearing loss will face challenges in everyday communication, be it at work, at school, in social situations and relationships, any other interaction (the bank, a call centre, eating at a restaurant, etc.).
Hearing loss can also be a danger to someone who cannot hear an approaching vehicle, for example, or other auditory signals that would otherwise let us know that we need to take immediate action or face risk of injury or worse.
On a personal level, interactions can become complicated and adversely impacted when one person cannot hear what the other person is saying. This is even more challenging when the person with hearing loss is either unaware or in denial of her or his hearing loss, making conversations difficult and causing others around them either to speak more loudly or give up altogether.
Hearing loss, if left unchecked, can lead to a number of undesirable and disadvantageous conditions, or “hidden risks.”
Social Isolation Due to Hearing Loss
When a person loses more and more of their ability to hear, a sad consequence is that they may feel more isolated from other people.
It’s a vicious circle, in fact. not only have others “given up” or “shied away” from this person due to communication issues, but they also may have given up and found themselves (subconsciously or otherwise) retreating from society and from life itself.
This social isolation also has a domino effect to other conditions.
Emotional and Mental Health Effects of Hearing Loss
As you can imagine, the aforementioned factors of social isolation can also lead to detrimental effects in the area of mental health.
Even for people with hearing loss who are not necessarily isolated, however, mental health and emotional challenges are, sadly, quite common.
More than 1 in 10 adults who have hearing loss suffer from moderate to severe depression (that’s nearly double the rate of depression in people who are hearing abled!).
Financial Implications of Hearing Loss
Many jobs and careers require the ability to hear, whether it’s listening to a customer, hearing instructions or signals/alarms, being aware of one’s surroundings, etc.
Even in companies and organizations that consider themselves to be “inclusive” or “progressive” towards people with disabilities, an employee may not be aware of his or her own hearing loss or may be too ashamed or afraid to admit it to others.
This can lead to tremendous communication difficulties on the job. An employee who is perceived by others as “he doesn’t listen” is likely to lose out on upward mobility or, even worse, could lose employment altogether.
The same goes for someone in a job interview who is having communication difficulties with the interviewer.
Over time, one’s inability to hear could cost him or her hundreds of thousands of dollars, and lead to consequences such as underemployment, unemployment and financial hardship.
Relationships and Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can also prevent someone from having thriving personal relationships.
It’s difficult to make or keep friends, for example, when one is seen as “not a good listener.”
This is doubly (if not more) true for dating and romantic relationships, where listening and communication are essential for effective, harmonious long-term relationships.
Thus, the prevalence of social isolation among people with hearing loss.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Having established that hearing loss is a potentially severe issue with ramifications in all areas of one’s life, let’s take a step back and explore what can cause hearing loss.
Hearing loss can occur for several reasons – to people in all walks of life, of all ages, in a variety of circumstances and situations.
As the adage goes, it’s about “genetics versus environment.”
In the case of hearing loss, though, it’s not a debate but rather an either/or proposition.
The Different Types of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is generally seen as being of three different categories:
- Sensorineural hearing loss
- Conductive hearing loss
- Mixed hearing loss (combination of Sensorineural or Conductive)
Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type. It is caused by damage to the small hair cells that line the inner ear. Once these cells are damaged, they cannot divide or regenerate – the damage is done permanently.
This “damage” doesn’t have to be a single event, mind you, though it can be in the case of an explosion or similarly loud noise (“sudden hearing loss”). More likely, however, the damage occurs over time.
It could be that someone has worked in a loud environment, such as a:
- construction site
- airport or military base
- music venue
- or any other venue where noise is constant and above an acceptable decibel level (85 dBA +)
Eventually a person with hearing loss will realize that his or her hearing isn’t what it used to be.
Hopefully this realization occurs early enough, so that there will be a chance to prevent further damage and erosion of hearing, as well as the opportunity to seek solutions such as hearing aids.
The “damage” to the ear could also be the simple act of going through life long enough to be exposed to conditions that eventually wear down the hair cells in the inner ear. This is also referred to as Presbycusis, aka hearing loss due to aging.
Presbycusis is the result of changes in the inner ear and/or auditory nerves. It is also a gradual process, one of those causes of hearing loss considered a product of genetics and family medical history.
Another type of hearing loss is referred to as Conductive. This is an obstruction of or damage to the outer or middle ear. Conductive hearing loss can be temporary or permanent.
The good news for many conductive hearing loss sufferers, however, is that it is often treatable with surgery or medical procedures. In some cases, the cause is an excessive buildup of wax and/or fluid; other times it can be a punctured eardrum.
Hearing Loss Due to Aging or Hereditary Factors
Some types of hearing loss are genetic, while others still are simply a part of the human aging process.
The debate rages on as to why some older adults have relatively good hearing, while others of the same age and who are in the same conditions and environments have hearing difficulties or suffer from severe hearing loss.
What we do know, in general, is that over time, our hearing is likely to suffer some form of degradation.
Age-related hearing loss can occur due to health factors such:
- being exposed to loud noises
- prescription drug use
- family history
- poor circulation / lack of exercise
As you can see, some of these factors are within our control while others are not.
Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears)
Tinnitus is a condition that is not uncommon. Its hallmark is a ringing in the ears.
Tinnitus is not a hearing-loss condition, but rather is a symptom of something else – such as an underlying medical condition, a wax buildup or other issue.
Is Hearing Loss Reversible? (and Why Prevention Is Key!)
The most common types of hearing loss – Sensorineural and Presbycusis – are generally considered irreversible.
While most forms of Conductive hearing loss and Tinnitus (which are less common than Sensorineural and Presbycusis) can be treated, the majority of people who are suffering from hearing loss, sadly, cannot have their hearing restored.
That’s not to say that there isn’t hope for the future, of course, as great strides have been made in the fields of medical research. At this time, however, the two main areas within one’s control after hearing loss are:
- prevention of further hearing loss
- assisted hearing devices
Because of the irreversible nature of the majority of hearing loss cases, prevention is all the more important.
For people reading this who do not suffer from hearing loss, no matter what stage you are at in life, we highly encourage you to take necessary steps to protect your hearing to help prevent hearing loss.
Avoid excessive noise levels (85 dBA and up) wherever and whenever possible, including while:
- listening to music (reasonable volumes are great, of course)
- attending music concerts and shows (sit/stand away from speakers, wear ear protection)
- being in other loud environments
If you work in a loud environment, it is imperative that you wear hearing protection. Not doing so can result in degradation and eventual loss of hearing. Canadian federal and BC laws and regulations of the workplace require employers to make accommodations for people in loud working environments, so that their hearing is protected and damage to the ears does not occur.
For people who have already suffered hearing loss, even at mild to moderate levels, it is very much recommended that you get a hearing assessment (such as the free hearing test offered at NexGen Hearing clinics across BC).
This assessment benchmarks your current hearing levels, identifies frequencies and areas of concern, provides recommendations on how to protect your hearing, and informs solutions for hearing assistance.
Common Signs of Hearing Loss
While the concept of “hearing loss” seems straightforward enough, signs of hearing loss can differ and too often go unnoticed or ignored.
Common signs of hearing loss include:
- misunderstanding what people say, or not hearing them
- inability to follow a conversation (especially when more than one person speaks at once)
- not communicating well with others (which they may perceive as a “listening” issue)
- asking people to repeat themselves
- turning up the volume on the TV or music
- becoming tired, stressed or anxious after spending energy trying to listen to others
- inability to hear well in restaurants or other loud environments
- tendency or desire to avoid social situations
Later signs of hearing loss could include missing everyday signals and cues, such as:
- the doorbell
- a phone ringing
- dog barking
- cars outside
- trees and leaves blowing in the wind
- children playing
If the sounds of your world are fading or disappearing, your next step should be to get a hearing assessment.
People with Hearing Loss Are Often the Last to Notice
While some people notice their hearing starting to degrade or deteriorate in earlier stages, sadly many people do not.
Chances are pretty high, however, that the people around them DO notice!
Perhaps one person in the house regularly turns up the TV, for example, and/or is always asking others to repeat themselves.
That person could be causing stress to others due to communication issues.
But many people have a natural tendency to avoid confrontation and not address issues head-on.
If you have a loved one in your life who seems to be suffering from hearing loss, the best thing you can do is let them know – in a caring and supportive way, of course – that you are concerned about their hearing.
Let that person know that his or her hearing loss is becoming an issue for everyone in the family, for example, and possibly for colleagues, friends and others. But also inform them of the options, that hearing assessments are available and that hearing aids could be a highly effective solution that would be a blessing to him/her and to others!
Are Hearing Aids a Good Solution for You?
If you suffer from hearing loss and fall into the majority of instances where it cannot be reversed or restored, hearing aids likely represent your best option.
As discussed in the “Causes” section above, once the tiny hair cells in the inner ear are damaged, they cannot divide or regenerate themselves and thus the resulting hearing loss cannot be repaired.
Hearing aids amplify sounds in a specific range of pitches and frequency. This targets human speech, as well as other sounds of life such as alarm bells, dogs barking, vehicular noise, etc.
As the name suggests, these devices assist the wearer by creating a vast improvement in one’s ability to hear. Hearing aids are not flawless, however, and cannot fully replicate the natural human ability to process sounds and fully separate speech from background noise.
Having said that, hearing aids have come a long a way since the earlier versions, and hearing aid technology continues to improve.
Where hearing aids excel is in giving the wearer something akin to a level playing field, providing a fresh opportunity for people with hearing loss to get assistance in processing the sounds in their lives.
The benefits of hearing aids include:
- a greater ability to understand what is being said to you and spoken around you
- less effort necessary to concentrate on listening, resulting in less fatigue and frustration
- a better connection with the world around you
Despite this, some people with hearing loss still have objections to wearing a hearing aid.
Hearing Aid Myths Debunked
Unfortunately, many of the people who could benefit from wearing a hearing aid resist even starting the process of getting a hearing aid.
These objections are often rooted in false premises or misperceptions.
In many cases, however, we have found that a simple stating of the facts helps people get past their preconceived notions and get the hearing assistance they truly need.
Let’s look at some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding hearing aids.
Myth: “I can hear fine.”
If someone you love has suggested that you look into getting a hearing aid, your natural human reaction may have been to say something like this.
Denial is a normal occurrence in human nature. Despite being presented with factual evidence to the contrary, sometimes we are just too proud, too ashamed or too stuck in our beliefs to accept what we probably (on some level) know to be true.
The average person with hearing loss waits a full 10 years before getting a hearing aid!
Think about how long (and detrimental) a stretch of time that is, considering:
- How many conversations you’ve missed out on
- How much financial opportunity or career advancement this could have cost
- How often you have suffered in relationships and friendships
- How much more you have become isolated from the world
- How this affects your physical and mental health
While it can be difficult to come to terms with something we might (mis)perceive as shameful or weak (there’s nothing weak about finding ways to be stronger in life!), denying and delaying make hearing loss far more difficult and much more challenging to come back from.
If you have waited, it’s okay, we’re not here to judge. While the best time to get a hearing aid might have been years ago, the next best time is right now!
Misperception: “Hearing aids cost too much”
Finances are a reality for all of us.
Hearing aids are, indeed, a significant investment in your health and wellbeing.
If you have an extended health plan, you may find that your insurance provider pays a portion of the hearing aid cost.
At NexGen Hearing in BC, we also offer financing programs to help spread out the cost of your hearing aid.
There are also tax deductions available in Canada for hearing aid costs and expenses.
Let’s also weigh the initial cost of a hearing aid versus the cost savings generated by being able to hear better. We have already stated the case for the price too many of us have paid when it comes to hearing loss.
The financial costs are tangible, when considering unemployment, underemployment, lost opportunities, etc.
Then there are the intangible costs of not being able to hear – relationships, friends, family… it all suffers.
The up-front cost of a hearing aid is exponentially offset by bringing back the ability to hear the sounds in your life.
Myth: “Hearing aids are for old people” / “I’m not at that stage of life yet”
As we’ve discussed earlier in this resource page, hearing loss can affect all sorts of people for a variety of causes and situations.
While it’s true that one form of hearing loss is related to aging, it goes far beyond that. Hearing loss affects every age demographic in Canada.
Many adults in the workforce in British Columbia, for example, spend much of their waking time in environments that subject them to loud decibel levels (construction, forestry and lumber, mining, aviation, military, music, railways, trucking and many others).
Without a hearing assessment, these people might continue to work without sufficient hearing protection and end up suffering moderate, severe or even total hearing loss. In the interim, it will be increasingly challenging for them in the workplace due to communication barriers and other hearing-related issues.
Getting a free hearing test and wearing a hearing aid, on the other hand, is the best way not only to be aware of where your hearing challenges are but to take proactive steps in being able to hear – on the job, at home and elsewhere in society.
Myth: “A hearing aid would make me look bad/weak/etc”
Admittedly, the older iterations of hearing aids were big, clunky and often unsightly.
But those days are well behind us.
Modern-day hearing aids are smaller, offering a much lower profile. These discrete devices are a far cry from their elder brethren.
You might even be surprised to learn of the many celebrities who wear a hearing aid – such as Bill Clinton, Whoopi Goldberg, Jodie Foster, Halle Berry, Adam Savage and literally hundreds if not thousands of other notable, high-profile people (usually without anyone even noticing!).
Misperception: “Hearing aids are uncomfortable and hard to use”
Just like hearing challenges and ears themselves, there are many different types, shapes and sizes of hearing aids available today.
At NexGen Hearing clinics in BC, our team of audiologists and hearing professionals will work with you to narrow down which hearing aid solution is best suited for your particular needs and goals.
Once you have selected the hearing aid of choice, you will have a trial period in which you can get comfortable with and accustomed to your new hearing aid (ask your NexGen Hearing team for details). We’re here to help along the way, and we want you to be as comfortable and confident as possible with your hearing aid.
The vast majority of our clients are very happy with the way their hearing aids look, feel and perform.
They will be the first ones to tell you that there is an adjustment period involved, as the ear and the brain learn to work together and adapt to change. In a short time, however, you’ll be well on your way to feeling confident about your hearing again – and feeling comfortable with your new hearing device.
Starting the Journey: Finding the Hearing Aid for You
When you visit one of our NexGen Hearing clinics located in Vancouver, the Lower Mainland, BC Interior or Vancouver Island, we’ll start with a hearing assessment facilitated by a trained, experienced and caring audiologist.
Once we have narrowed down your hearing challenges and identified a need for a hearing assistance device, we’ll then sit with you to explore the various options for hearing aids.
Some hearing aids are geared towards people with mild to moderate hearing loss, while others are more suited for people with moderate or severe hearing loss.
Hearing aids also come in a variety of sizes, shapes and configurations.
At your NexGen Hearing clinic, you’ll be able to touch, feel and try them on to see which one is right for you.
Since we’re here, let’s do a little virtual exploration of more common types of hearing aids available to you.
Different Types of Hearing Aids: Function, Features and Purpose
Today’s hearing aids are available in several formats.
BTE: Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aids
BTE hearing aids are suitable for people with all levels of hearing loss, from mild to very severe (where BTE is particularly effective).
These devices have two parts. The case itself fits behind the ear and contains most of the working components of the hearing aid. This is connected via a clear tube (that runs along the top of the ear) to a plastic ear mould.
BTE hearing aids are also adaptable to add-on devices such as directional microphones (which help cut down background noise) and telecoils (ideal for phone calls and other sound devices).
Mini BTE: On-the-Ear Hearing Aids
As its name suggests, this is a smaller version of the BTE hearing aid.
The Mini-BTE features a smaller case and a nearly-invisible tube. Open-fit earpieces are also an option for an even lower profile.
ITE: In-the-Ear Hearing Aids
Ideal for adults with mild to severe hearing loss, ITE hearing aids are small enough for a low profile but still provide superior handling ability.
The ITE components are in a case residing at the outer part of the ear.
Telecoils and directional microphones are available as add-ons for ITE hearing aids, which are also compatible with cochlear implants.
ITC (In-The-Canal) and CIC (Completely-In-The-Canal) Hearing Aids
These lower-profile hearing aids are best suited for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.
They fit contoured to the shape and size of the ear canal, and thus the ITC and CIC hearing aids are ideal for those looking for a customized solution that fits great and looks even better.
Extended Wear Hearing Aids
At NexGen Hearing clinics in BC, we also offer an extended wear hearing device called Lyric.
These devices are worn round the clock, 24/7, for several months at a time.
Lyric provides a truly invisible hearing aid experience with superior sound quality as well as the ability to sleep, participate in sports and much more without having to remove or even consider the hearing device.
Add-Ons and Options for Hearing Aids
You may also want to consider the following specialized features for your hearing aid:
- Bluetooth – connect your hearing aid to a phone, computer, etc.
- T-Coil / Tele Coil – lets you switch between regular voice situations and phone calls
- Directional Microphone – these enable better hearing in noisy environments such as restaurants, etc.
- Direct Audio Input – connect your hearing aid to a TV or other device
- Feedback Suppression – better control for feedback, a high-pitched sound that may sometimes occur if the hearing aid gets loose
Day to Day Life with a Hearing Aid: Wear, Care and Maintenance
We will discuss wear and care options with you when you select a hearing aid at one of our BC hearing clinics.
In general, today’s hearing aids require relatively little maintenance and are built solidly to withstand everyday use.
To help ensure that your hearing aid stays in top condition, it’s a good idea to keep both your hearing aid and your ears clean. There are specific hearing aid cleaning aid tools and solutions on the market; talk to the team at NexGen Hearing centres in BC to find out more.
You’ll also want to avoid moisture, as that can be harmful to the hearing aid. With the exception of Lyric hearing devices, please remove your hearing aid before entering the shower, swimming pool, etc.
Periodically you will need to change the batteries in your hearing aid. As each hearing aid is different, consult the manual or your team at NexGen Hearing clinics in BC for more details. We recommend buying batteries in advance so that you’ll always have one (or more) on hand and won’t have to suffer without hearing.
Do Hearing Aids Come with a Warranty? How Is Service Provided?
Each hearing aid comes with a warranty.
Your NexGen Hearing clinic specialist will advise you about the details of your hearing aid’s warranty at the time of purchase.
From time to time, like virtually any other device, a hearing aid can require service.
As the point of sale and ongoing care, your NexGen Hearing clinic team will be happy to accommodate your hearing aid service needs.
Often we are able to perform repairs on site while you wait. Other times, we may need to send your hearing aid out for more extensive service; in these instances, we can provide you with a loaner hearing aid.
We will advise at the time you bring in your hearing aid (or call us) about the warranty status for your particular hearing aid and its repair needs.
Get a Hearing Aid and Hear the World Around You
Hearing loss, while devastating and usually irreversible, is not without hope.
If you suffer from hearing loss, the first step is to recognize that this condition exists and to become familiar with your options.
At NexGen Hearing clinics throughout British Columbia, we offer free 3-step hearing tests as well as comprehensive hearing assessment and hearing aid solutions.
To find out more about how a hearing aid from NexGen Hearing can help mitigate your hearing loss and restore the sound of the world around you, contact us today.