“When you lose your vision, you lose contact with things. When you lose your hearing, you lose contact with people.” –Helen Keller
That’s a meaningful quote for Dr. Ann Marie Olson, founder of Sophisticated Hearing in Ho-Ho-Kus.
“When people go out socially, they bring their glasses so they can see. When they start losing their hearing, many choose to stay home and forego their social lives because they feel uncomfortable when they cannot properly participate in the conversation. I encourage patients to consider their hearing aids like their glasses. Make sure you have them in order to enjoy time out with friends.”
Dr. Olson has a long history of education and experience in helping her patients hear better. With a doctorate in audiology, she is the President of HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) and the Vice President of Communications for the New Jersey Academy of Audiology, a professional association for audiologists.
There is a significant difference in the level of service between a hearing aid dispensary and a visit to an audiologist. “A hearing care center directed by an audiologist is not just about selling hearing aids,” she says. “We analyze each person’s situation, occupation and lifestyle. Then, we diagnose the level of hearing loss and present options to the patient.
There are many health-related issues that may cause hearing loss including diabetes, heart disease, smoking, poor circulation and high blood pressure. Chemotherapy treatments and heavy antibiotic use can also have hearing loss as side effects.
An initial consultation includes an analysis of the patient’s past history and previous hearing tests. The discussion includes questions about specific hearing difficulties and the patient's lifestyle. Dr. Olson advises bringing a trusted loved one along. Getting objective feedback from another person can be eye-opening for both parties involved.
A hearing test is administered which can simulate different environments; for example, there may be significant problems when background noise is present. Once Dr. Olson has the results, she advises on manufacturers and styles. She also takes into account issues like dexterity and choosing the aid which suits the patient’s age and lifestyle.
The progressive technology being developed in hearing aids is staggering. New models are invisible or almost invisible. Patients may choose from battery-operated or rechargeable units to suit their preferences. Bluetooth-ready hearing aids stream music and phone calls from your phone. They also can allow the user to listen to the television directly through the aid without having to turn up the volume. They feature adjustments like microphone direction, noise reduction, and equalizers which can be managed through an app. It’s encouraging to know that the stigma of wearing hearing aids has now been greatly reduced thanks to the acceptance of wearing earphones and earbuds throughout the day. The population is getting used to “ear tech!”
Hearing aids also utilize artificial intelligence technology to learn which environments cause hearing problems and then “learns” to address them—automatically. The technology uses geotagging so that if you visit the same restaurant regularly, it will learn to make the noise adjustments necessary.
In the near future, hearing aids will be completely interactive and will connect with all of your smartphone apps. Some also have the ability to detect if the wearer has fallen and will notify the police or a loved one if there is no pre-emptive response.
Healthy hearing is gaining ground as a critical quality of life consideration for the aging population. Insurance companies, health care agencies and the government are realizing how hearing loss can be detrimental to an individual’s health by attributing to isolation, poor exercise and eating habits and lack of communication. Therefore, Congress is working to gain more access for seniors through Medicare, and some independent insurers may cover a substantial amount of the cost. If a patient has a private pay situation, Sophisticated Hearing can arrange 12 months of interest-free financing upon approval.
“I work with my patients to develop an improved hearing lifestyle,” says Dr. Olson. “The proper hearing aid can help you re-train your brain to enjoy the sounds of life!”