Paying the Price for Listening Too Loud
What we got feels so good
Like I’m climbing a stairway
And it turns me on
When we dial it up all the way
Making loud music
We’re making loud music
We’re making loud music
You and I
So loud, so (loud)
Lyrics from “Loud Music” by Michelle Branch
What do Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Phil Collins, Neil Young, Ozzy Osbourne (to name a few); all have in common besides being legendary rock stars over age 60?
Permanent hearing loss that they have, in some cases, passed on to their fans.
My generation invented sonic electronic music blasted in stadium venues—and boy was it fun to go to those deafening concerts. It was a pastime we then passed down to our children’s generation.
But we’re paying the price now with damaged eardrums that can’t be repaired.
“Noise induced hearing loss is a serious issue,” says Nancy Jablonski of Clinton, a shoreline audiologist. “Noise is toxic to our hearing and cumulative, as hearing does not rebound when exposed to high noise levels. The nerve damage is irreversible and it gets worse with each exposure. So even if we [only] listened to loud rock music at an early age, it can affect our hearing as we age.”
Jablonski knows of what she speaks—besides being an expert on hearing, she’s a Baby Boomer herself and admits she wears hearing aids because of her own rock and roll years.
Hearing loss often goes undetected for too long because routine hearing check ups are not part of regular medical care and people often don’t even realize they have hearing problems until they become debilitating, Jablonski explains.
“When you go for a physical, how many physicians ask you, ‘Have you had a hearing test?’” Jablonski says. “Just like with vision, we start to need readers when we turn 40, the same thing happens with hearing—whether it’s genetic or environmental or a process of aging. It’s not that we can’t hear. It’s just not as sharp and clear.”
Jablonski suggests having a hearing test by age 55 or 60—or earlier if you find you’re missing words in conversations, turning up the volume on the TV, having difficulty with background noises, or ringing in ears (Tinnitus), which is often a sign of hearing loss.
Untreated hearing loss can be especially problematic for Baby Boomers today, who, due to uncertain finances and healthcare, may need to stay in the workforce longer and may not be able to satisfactorily perform their jobs without hearing aids. But, the good news is, the use of hearing aids are reported to reduce the risk of losing income by 90 to 100 percent for those with mild hearing loss and 65 to 77 percent for those with moderate to severe hearing loss, according ot the Better Hearing Institute (www.betterhearing.org)
And studies on aging are now linking individuals with untreated hearing loss with an increased risk of developing dementia. Researchers suggested that the strain of decoding sounds over the years might overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia. Social isolation, caused by hearing loss, can also lead to dementia, according to the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging.
Not Your Mother’s or Father’s (or Aunt’s) Hearing Aids
Jablonski began her career as an audiologist in 1978. She left the field for 25 years to go into a business (not related to audiology) with her husband. After his untimely death in 2005, she decided to return to her field and went to work for hearing aid manufacturers doing training and teaching new technology.
In 2012, as a 60th birthday present to herself, Jablonski quit her job and decided to start her own practice because she was so excited by all the advances in hearing aid technology.
“I reinvented myself,” she says. “I joined the chamber, started networking. My goal was to be the expert on hearing in my community. I started thinking about how everyone complains about their hearing aides sitting in a drawer, and how they spend so much money on them, but aren’t using them. My mother is very hearing impaired and she loves her hearing aides. So, I figured out that it’s really how you’re taught and fit. It takes work to fit hearing aides. They’re very complicated.”
On a positive note, Jablonski finds that Baby Boomers are much more open-minded and embracing of wearing hearing aides than our parents’ generation that was embarrassed by the clunky devices which, like my Aunt Rose’s, emitted a high-pitched squeal every time I gave her a hug.
“I’m seeing less pushback from my generation,” Jablonski says. “Boomers are embracing hearing aides because they don’t want to miss a word. They want to [be proactive].
“They’re invisible, you don’t even see them. They’re cool,” she adds. “The technology is now interfacing with Smart phones. For example, I can answer my phone, listen to a podcast through my hearing aides. I can change programs through an app. If I lose them, the app on my phone will find them! They even whisper in your ear when the batteries are low. And you can customize them to any environment.
For this reason, Jablonski started Audiology Concierge of Old Saybrook. In addition to office visits, she goes to homes and workplaces from Branford to Mystic—wherever hearing is problematic for people—to evaluate and fit hearing aides to their specific needs.
Recently Jablonski gave a free hearing clinic at Evergreen Woods in Branford and was reunited with David Green, PhD, a resident, who was head of the audiology department at Southern Connecticut State University while she was enrolled in the program.
He admitted he had an old pair of hearing aids he didn’t wear very often and she offered to give him a hearing test and demonstration of the new technology.
“He was amazed at the sounds he’s been missing,” Jablonski says. “Even a professor of audiology had a challenge recognizing that his hearing was starting to trail off.”
Green’s hobbies are singing and playing banjo, and by upgrading to new hearing aids, he’s thrilled to hear his own music the way he used to.
Jablonski point out that although hearing loss can’t be reversed, there are things people can do to avoid further damage, such as wearing ear plugs while attending loud concerts, mowing the lawn, using a chain saw or power tools. And reducing the volume in your headphones/ear buds when you’re listening to music on the treadmill.
So, if we treat our ears with more care, it sounds like we don’t have to stop rocking after all.
Amy J. Barry is a Baby Boomer, who lives in Stony Creek with her husband and assorted pets. She writes reviews for Shore Publishing newspapers and is an expressive arts educator. Contact her at www.aimwrite-ct.net.