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Let’s Be Sensible About Our Senses

By August 10, 2023March 13th, 2024Caregiving Expert Advice Well-being
A man with a hearing aid behind the ear communicates with his family via video on his smartphone.

A lot of research shows that hearing and vision loss can speed up cognitive decline and dementia in older adults. There’s also evidence that hearing and vision correction can slow that decline.

We rely heavily on our senses to stay connected to the world around us. Without that connection, we can start to feel powerless and tend to withdraw socially. And that isolation affects our emotional and cognitive health.

As a geriatrician, this is something I’m really concerned about. (Especially now, when the masks that some of us still wear for COVID-19 protection can prevent lip reading and muffle our speech.)

As someone who has suffered hearing loss myself, I also have a lot of compassion for those who resist getting or wearing hearing aids.

I’d like to tell you about my own hearing aid journey. Hopefully, this will help people who are on the fence overcome their hesitation and get the hearing and vision correction they need.

My Hearing Loss

I lost most of my hearing in both ears in 2016 because of Ménière’s disease. This condition, which is currently incurable, is thought to be caused by a buildup of fluid inside the inner ear. The result is severe dizziness, ringing in the ears, and hearing loss.

In most people, Ménière’s disease usually affects only one ear. I was not so lucky. I felt as though both of my ears were filled with gauze that muffled every sound. Understanding people’s speech was especially difficult.

I found myself wanting to resist getting hearing aids. “They’re for old people,” I thought. I didn’t want to be “one of those people who wears hearing aids.”

But I’m a doctor. Being able to hear what people say is essential in my line of work. Losing that ability was unacceptable. So, I “faced the music” and went to an audiologist, who fitted me with a pair of hearing aids.

My Initial Reaction to Wearing Hearing Aids

Somehow, I expected that wearing hearing aids would be just like wearing glasses. I’m nearsighted. Without my glasses, things are blurry. But when I put them on, my vision is perfect.

Hearing aids are not like that. Yes, they allow me to hear, but not exactly the same as before I lost my hearing. I can understand people’s speech now, which is the main thing, but everything sounds a little different.

Sometimes, sound gets distorted. Some things are too loud. When I eat something crunchy, the noise can be distracting. Sometimes, there’s a little feedback, a high-pitched whistling, though that’s less likely with newer hearing aids.

All these differences can be a real turnoff to people who are trying hearing aids for the first time. But I promise you, if you stick with it, you will get used to it. It took me six months to adjust to mine, but now I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

Why I’ve Learned to Love My Hearing Aids

The biggest advantage of wearing my hearing aids is (obviously) that I can hear. When my husband talks to me, I can tell exactly what he is saying — a big improvement over the “mmm mm mmmm mmm mm” I’d become used to.

Communication and connection are really priceless. Until you lose your hearing and then get it back via hearing aids, this is something you may not be able to fully appreciate.

But also, I can hear music again. I love music! After I lost my hearing, my favorite songs were so muffled I couldn’t stand it. Now, I can stream music directly from my cell phone to my hearing aids and enjoy every note.

Don’t Surrender Your Senses

Please stay up to date on all of your routine health checkups, including hearing and vision. It’s vitally important to get your hearing and vision checked annually. These checkups can catch serious health problems that might otherwise get missed.

And get glasses and/or hearing aids if you need them. I know it can be embarrassing. I know it can be expensive. But not getting them has a cost, too — it affects your relationships, isolates you from the world around you, and can contribute to mental decline.

Independence Blue Cross Medicare Advantage members can get advanced and premium hearing aids from any TruHearing® provider with a copay that’s considerably lower than the full cost of the devices. An annual routine hearing exam, and unlimited hearing aid fittings and evaluations, are available at no cost when provided by a TruHearing provider. For routine audiologist exams, members must call TruHearing at 855-541-6173.

Our Medicare Advantage plans also have a $0 copay for an annual routine eye exam when provided by a Davis Vision provider, and an annual allowance towards eyewear bought at any Visionworks® or in-network Davis Vision provider. You can locate in-network vision providers and audiologists (hearing specialists) using our Provider Finder.

So, please — make and keep your eye and ear appointments. Take the tests. Listen to the specialists. If they say you need vision or hearing correction, please believe them.

And once you have your glasses and/or hearing aids, wear them. Not just sometimes, but all the time when you’re not sleeping or in the shower. If you don’t use them consistently, you’ll never get used to them. And if you don’t get used to them, you’re more likely to give up on them completely. You want them to become like a part of your body.

Make sure you change the batteries on your hearing aids regularly, too.

Not addressing your vision and hearing loss can cause real social isolation and a reduced ability to interact with the people and world around you. And those challenges can translate into faster cognitive decline, a thing that you’re hopefully eager to avoid.

TruHearing® is a registered trademark of TruHearing, Inc., an independent company.
Independence Blue Cross vision benefits are administered by Davis Vision, an independent company. An affiliate of Independence Blue Cross has a financial interest in Visionworks.
Independence Blue Cross offers Medicare Advantage plans with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in Independence Medicare Advantage plans depends on contract renewal.
Website last updated: 08/08/2023

Dr. Heidi J. Syropoulos

I joined Independence Blue Cross in 2015 after practicing Geriatrics for nearly 30 years. In my current role I function as the medical liaison to our Government Markets team, serving as a subject matter expert on clinical medicine and healthcare delivery. What I love about my position is the opportunity to help an entire population of people through the benefits of their health plan.