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October 13, 2002

Coming to terms with hearing loss

From:, VA
Oct. 13, 2002

Hearing professionals are busy these days, with baby boomers and more young people seeking help for hearing loss.

The Free Lance-Star

DURING HIS 44 YEARS of selling hearing aids in the Fredericksburg area, William Beverley has heard it all.

He smiles when he tells the story about a man and his wife who visited his business a few years ago.

It seems the woman wanted her husband to get a hearing aid. The man wasn't so keen on the idea.

After administering a hearing test, Beverley said hearing aids could help.

"How much will they cost?" the man asked.

Beverley quoted a price.

"Why I could buy a new color TV for that much money," the husband responded.

"But what good would that do?" his wife interjected. "You couldn't put it in your ear and hear with it."

End of discussion.

Beverley said the man bought the hearing aids and has thanked him several times since.

"He told me he didn't realize how much he was missing," Beverley said. "And I bet over the years, he has referred about 50 other customers to me for hearing aids."

The story is typical for several reasons.

Beverley said married couples often visit hearing-aid specialists because the wife is frustrated by her husband's loss of hearing.

He also said people generally are reluctant to have hearing tests for fear of finding a problem, and that neither men nor women seem to like the idea of wearing a hearing aid. Most think the aids are unattractive and make them look older.

Cost also is a consideration. The price range for most hearing aids is between $500 and $1,500. Digital hearing aids--with sophisticated technology and advertised as having CD-quality sound--run between $3,000 and $6,000.

The traditional hearing-aid options include units that fit behind the ear, in the ear, in the ear canal or completely in the ear canal. In general, the smaller the hearing aid, the higher the price.

Hearing tests, which are free at most hearing-aid businesses, determine which frequencies a customer has difficulty hearing. Then a mold is made of the ear to ensure a perfect fit, and a hearing aid is programmed to compensate for the customer's specific problem.

"Almost everyone wants the smallest hearing aid they can get," said Beverley, who owns Maico Hearing Aid Service in Central Park.

"But sometimes the smallest hearing aid is not best for their situation. My job is to fit the aid to the type of hearing loss."

Cheryl Becker, a board-certified hearing instrument specialist with Better Hearing Center of Virginia on Plank Road, said her job is part science and part art.

"The science is in the circuitry and the art is in the fitting," she said. "It's not a one-size-fits-all situation. No two ears are alike--just like fingerprints."

Becker has 23 years experience in the field and frequently gives seminars to civic groups and at nursing homes. She said most people with hearing loss tend to miss the higher frequencies. In practical terms, that means difficulty hearing women's and children's voices. If someone has low-frequency hearing loss, they would have trouble hearing men's voices.

Most hearing loss is caused by damage to the tiny cochlear hair cells in the inner ear and is called nerve deafness. Contributing factors can be exposure to loud noises, childhood diseases, viruses, head trauma, certain medications and heredity.

"If I see five people during the day, probably four of them will have a mother or father who suffered hearing loss," said Beverley.

"Generally, the percentage of hearing loss is associated with age. But that's not true for everyone. I know some 80- and 90-year-olds with almost perfect hearing, and others in their 30s and 40s who couldn't hear a gunshot in the same room."

Beverley said he is seeing more young people--ages 16 and up--than ever before, and that many of them have some degree of hearing loss because of loud music.

"Their parents usually bring them," he said. "But most of the kids have made up their minds before they come in. They don't want to changethey're living for today."

Becker said she has sold hearing aids to people as young as their late 20s and early 30s. And she warned that just 20 minutes of listening to loud music on a set of headphones can cause permanent hearing damage.

She said musicians are particularly at risk and that it should be a concern for high school band members, as well.

"I expect a lot of young people will experience some kind of hearing loss in the future because of their listening habits now," Becker said.

"Most people don't realize that hearing loss is the No. 1 disability in the country. And less than 30 percent of the people who suffer from hearing loss do anything about it."

Becker recommends that everyone over the age of 55 have an annual hearing test.

"That's about the age when people start to notice hearing problems--like asking people to repeat themselves and turning up the volume," she said. "Age 55 for hearing is about like 40-to-45 is for eyeglasses."

Holding her hands in the shape of a circle about the size of a basketball, Becker said that hearing loss can shrink the quality of life for many people.

Moving her hands closer together with each example, Becker said people get tired of asking friends and relatives to repeat things, so they just start nodding. Then they decide they can't go to bingo games anymore because they can't hear the numbers.

Then she said they will isolate themselves at gatherings like family reunions rather than socialize with the group. And finally, they say all they want to do is read or write, which require no listening or interaction.

"By then, their quality of life is about this size," Becker said, overlapping her hands to about the size of a golf ball."

But this trend toward isolation for the hearing impaired may be beginning to change. And like so many other things these days, you can blame it on the baby boomers.

"It seems adults today are more health conscious and many of them are in a better financial position to do something about their hearing loss," said Beverley.

"The current generation doesn't have time to repeat things. If you don't catch it the first time, you've probably missed it. In this big, busy world we live in, people don't always make an effort to slow down for the hard of hearing. There are just too many others who can listen."

Becker said baby boomers definitely are on the rise as customers for hearing aids.

"I'm seeing more and more people come in who are still in the work force," she said.

Hearing professionals agree that it is important for everyone--regardless of age--to protect their hearing. That means wearing ear plugs when mowing the lawn, using a weed-trimmer or working with power tools.

"You really should try to keep what hearing you have as long as you can," Beverley said. "Once it's gone, you can't ever replace it."

Said Becker: "It's important to remember we spell them a-i-d-s, and not c-u-r-e."

disABILITY RESOURCE CENTER (373-2559 voice or 373-5890 TTY) Provides outreach services for the Virginia Department for Deaf and Hard of Hearing for the Fredericksburg area. E-mail:

OLD DOMINION COCHLEAR IMPLANT ASSOCIATION (Arva Priola, 373-2559, or e-mail Support group for individuals who use the cochlear implant.

RASHHH (RAPPAHANNOCK AREA SELF-HELP FOR HARD OF HEARING) Hilary Relton or Mary McElhaney (804/448-3874). E-mail: Helps people cope with hearing loss.

TAP LOAN PROGRAM, disAbility Resource Center (373-2559, voice; 373-5890, TTY) and the Central Rappahannock Regional Library (372-1144 voice/TTY). Loans equipment for those who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech impairments.
Hearing organizations

COCHLEAR IMPLANT INTERNATIONAL CLUB, John P. Markey (TTY, 540/972-4001). Support group for individuals who use the cochlear implant.

DEAF WOMEN'S CLUB, Kim Taylor, president. Call disAbility Resource Center, (voice/TTY, 373-2559).

FREDERICKSBURG CLUB FOR THE DEAF, Bridget Wilkens, president, e-mail; disAbility Resource Center (TTY, 373- 5890), ask for Gail Krpata.

SIGN FOR FUN CLUB AND SIGN FOR FUN CAMP, Arlene Vanhorn (710-1387), e-mail Club for children with hearing loss.
Sign language classes

disABILITY RESOURCE CENTER (373-2559, voice, ask for Beth Klein, or e-mail Arva Priola at Offers classes throughout the year.

GERMANNA COMMUNITY COLLEGE (710-2000, Dr. Patricia Harrison). Offers a two-year American sign language program.

SALEM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (786-8281, voice/TTY). Fall and spring classes.

SPOTSWOOD BAPTIST CHURCH (898-7577, voice/TTD). Offers sign-language class during the year.

SELF-HELP FOR HARD OF HEARING PEOPLE, Rappahannock Chapter, meets 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. third Saturdays, disAbility Resource Center, 409 Progress St., Fredericksburg (373-2559 or 373-5890/TTY).
Other Web sites

AMERICAN ACADEMY OF AUDIOLOGY,, or call toll free 800/AAA-2336.


THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR HEARING HEALTH,, or call toll free 800/829-5934.


Copyright 2002, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co. of Fredericksburg, Va.