UPDATE: Please see the new item below about an audiologist for a hearing aid manufacturer in footnote 4
“So many of the people with hearing loss have mild hearing loss and are simply not candidates for amplification.“
We don’t buy that statement, for two reasons:
(1) When a person walks through the Hearing Aid Professionals’ doorway, this individual realizes they have an issue with understanding spoken communications. We give them a free, quick hearing threshold test & speech test in quiet, discover they have 10-15dB average thresholds, and then send them on their way with a pat on the head, telling them “too bad, your hearing loss isn’t bad enough to qualify for hearing aids” …And who can blame them, as there’s a fear of a reprimand from a licensing board for selling hearing aids when there’s no benefit? (But, more on this in a few moments).
But wait a minute! The person has a problem communicating, and the salient question should be, does the minimal peripheral screening test detect the cause of the difficulty? And the answer is a resounding NO: Do we screen for auditory neuropathy (ANSD) by running a stapedial reflex threshold (SRT) test, or at least a speech-in-noise (QuickSIN or HINT) test? Do we screen for auditory processing disorders (CAPD)? Do we screen for outer hair cell integrity using otoacoustic emissions (OAE)?
Bueller? …Bueller? …Bueller?…
(2) Led by the surprisingly good Songbird FlexFit hearing instrument and followed up by the Beltone First Step program and Starkey with the AMP micro canal hearing aid (nice work, Jason!), these people are bypassing the barrier thrown up by the dispenser or audiologist and getting the help they need.
Sergei, here is my question for you, as the “Keeper of the MarkeTrak industry statistics:” Of the many thousands of Songbird instruments sold every month, I wonder what percentage of people are motivated to buy who have already had “free” screenings & have been told “Sorry, your hearing loss isn’t bad enough for hearing aids?” I have actually seen people with a PTA of almost 20dB with thresholds @3-4k of 30dB being told those dreaded words. [And parenthetically to our severely deaf readers, how many have you been told that you aren't "deaf enough" to qualify for cochlear implants, and left to struggle with the help you need but is just out of reach?]
Many years ago at the NJHAA convention (during my first stint as a Hearing Care Professional 1985-95), Dr Bob Martin alerted me to these issues, and he raised the points above. In addition, he pointed out that some of the problem goes back to the the whole concept of “Audiometric Zero,” which is no more than a statistical average of what “normal” hearing is, based on the landmark work by Bell Labs of Fletcher & Munson at the 1939 Chicago World’s Fair. But, as any of us who has tested kids & teens knows, we often see -5 & -10dB thresholds, and as “Dr Bob” pointed out, if a person had a -10dB threshold at, say, 1kHz & it’s now +15dB, that’s a 25dB drop that the brain has to deal with.
Now, let’s circle back around to the issue of benefit I raised early on in section (1): What do we do with this population with a communication handicap more severe than the screening audiogram indicates, like with my colleague, speech pathologist Martha, who was having all sorts of problems in restaurants & meetings? (Some of you may have met Martha at the Hearing Loss Ass’n of America 2010 Convention in Milwaukee, as she was my co-presenter on (class)room acoustics). Her thresholds are in the 10-15dB range, not “deaf enough” for hearing aids. She knew, however, from her audiology training she has a problem, and that it needed addressing. Same for my friend Jenifer, whom I counseled to go to the nearest Miracle-Ear: The audiologist told her the same thing: “She doesn’t qualify.” But for both ladies, it left their communication problems unaddressed.
Dr. Staab, who’s been practicing audiology since the 1960s, points out that a person’s decision to get hearing aids is “never based on the degree of hearing loss, but only on the degree of ‘hurt. If the hurt is not great enough psychologically, emotionally, economically, or socially, there is no justification for hearing aid use.”
Elaborating, Wayne says that in the farming and ranching country where he comes from, older people often have treatable hearing losses as defined by their audiometric thresholds. However, they but don’t hurt enough to feel the need for hearing help. Why is that? It’s often a matter of lifestyle, he explains. For example, he says, “Many farmers live with their spouses, they speak with them from fairly close distances, and they use their television volume controls as their hearing aids.” In other words, they hear well enough for the way they live.
Sometimes, it works the other way, Wayne adds. He has fitted people with “normal” hearing thresholds because they weren�t satisfied with their unaided hearing. [Emphasis added: DLS]
What I counseled both ladies to do was order a Songbird (1 for Martha, 2 for Jen), as they have a 45 day free trial, take it out for a spin in meetings, restaurants and the cafeterias, and see if it actually helps clear up their communications problems. [I believe this is ethical, because both ladies had been screened for diseases by the school district audiologist & Miracle-Ear audiologist, respectively. Also, I felt comfortable because I had no financial interest in the initial Songbird trials to determine if there's indeed benefit.]
What happened with these two ladies?
Martha, who had audiology schooling, was so pleased, she went to a local audiologist & bought an Oticon Vigo, complete with the Streamer, which you saw her strutting around the Milwaukee HLAA convention, purchased even before the battery on her disposable Songbird died;
Jen was having an issue with fitting¹ but she was so surprised at what she was missing, she returned them in the 45 day free trial period, instead purchasing a pair of Starkey AMP micro canal hearing instruments to try, programmed at gain family 2, -4db in lows & +6dB in highs� And she immediately liked it right at the default volume of 3, of 5 volume steps. What’s more, I love the ability to remotely tweak her programs over the phone, which is a Really Nice Feature.
THE SALIENT QUESTIONS:
A) How many more people like Martha & Jen are there out there, who have a communications handicap that is missed by what the hearing aid professional checks for in the screening audiogram & speech-in-quiet tests?
C) How many of these people are, in fact, part of the statistic of 33 million Americans with hearing problems? This has Major Implications for Market Trak, as if these people are in the universe of 33 million, the HA dispensing profession may indeed be *reducing* the universe of (33-8.4 = 24.6 million) candidates;
D) On a related note, this affects children as well as adults, as how many schoolchildren fall into this crack, and would benefit from FM or low gain HA’s in school, even if the classroom meets ANSI/ASA S12.60-2009 acoustical standards for reverberation time & background noise? For more on this, please see my comment about the twin problems of tinnitus & “I can’t hear what the teacher is saying” that the supposedly “normal” hearing six year old daughter of my author friend Shanna Bartlett Groves‘ faces every day in Test The Ears You Love on her Lip Reading Mom blog.
Many Americans with auditory communication challenges are taking the steps necessary to overcome them, but are being met by hearing aid professionals who rely solely on the screening audiogram and basic speech audiometry, which do not fully address the challenges the patients face, especially with respect to listening ease, and are turned away as not being “deaf enough.” Some of these people are resorting to over-the-counter hearing aids and other PSAPs with mixed results, while a few hearing aid professionals will go ahead & fit hearing aids; but as we’ve documented above, even when the audiogram says the patient won’t benefit from amplification, the patient deigns to disagree.
After this article was published, we had the following e-mail conversation with a support audiologist for a hearing aid manufacturer after she read this article. Here is the exchange:
Audiologist: On a side note, I read your blog and couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I am one of those people whose perceived handicap does not match my “normal” hearing thresholds.
DLS: Incidentally, since you are “one of those people whose perceived handicap does not match my ‘normal’ hearing thresholds,” do you (proverbally) “eat your own dog food?” Hitch up your NOAHlink, slip on a pair of [redacted] instruments, and play around some on yourself, especially with your streamer!
Audiologist: I have had the same thought, but have never actually used hearing aids. Text messaging and closed captioning are my friend. Your suggestion is a good one. I just might try it.
DLS: Ummm, if you’re using text messaging, that’s one thing; but if you’re using closed captioning, that’s a whole new ballgame. I’ll bet if you used Bob Sweetows’ LACE you’ll find yourself already a good speechreader.
What are your ipsi & contra reflex thresholds? Your QuickSIN (or HINT) scores? Have you ever been evaluated for ANSD? For CAPD?!
Hmmm, this could get interesting, especially if you plug in hearing aids & things do NOT improve.
See, this can happen to even a hearing care professional…
(1) Jen also had a minor issue related to eartip size vs need for venting, and needing more gain, which caused feedback. If she were local, I would have made a custom earmold with proper venting and use it instead.
(2) If it seems like I’m a fan of the Songbird FlexFit hearing aids built right here in New Jersey, you’re right: Unlike the other over-the-counter “listening devices” from China you see on eBay & at WalMart with poor high frequency response, the FlexFit is unique in that when you look at the specifications it is a real digital hearing aid with an ANSI S3.22-2003 response to 8kHz and an AGCi kneepoint of 67dB (click to enlarge):
(3) Here’s why I’m a Big Fan of the Songbird family… And it’s due to their RCA Sarnoff Labs connection. As many of you who know, I was a Georgia Tech co-op Electrical Engineer at RCA-Camden in 1979 & 80; and while I was in the IRR project I had the privilege of spending time at the RCA David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton, opened in 1942. Some of you who are older may have learned acoustics from the Labs’ Harry Olson, whom along with Leo Beranek wrote the textbook you used. The first time I walked into the lobby, I saw in a glass case the 1955 Emmy® trophy awarded to the labs for Color TV — One of twelve Emmy® Awards the Lab have received for everything from stereo TV audio to H.264 Digital TV. [If you're a technology buff, watch this amazing December1953 YouTube clip]. So, the next time you see a Songbird commercial, know that you can draw a straight line between the technology in that hearing aid and the TV you’re watching it on.~
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