Guerreiro, a passionate advocate for aging patients, says that often the aging are marginalized, misdiagnosed and then confused by a barrage of advertising for hearing aids that don’t work for them.
Aging patients who lack the optimism and family support experienced by Greenberg, a patient at the University of Miami Cochlear Implant Center, suffer even more, he says.
Greenberg, widowed three times and now living alone, says her niece, Cecile Fuchs, of Boynton Beach, has been her lifeline.
“None of this would have happened without her,” Greenberg says.
Of Greenberg, Fuchs says with affection, “There is no challenge this lady will not attempt.”
Some patients with hearing loss are misdiagnosed with dementia.
“You can’t remember what you didn’t hear,” Guerreiro says.
In addition, family conversations that negatively underscore patients’ hearing loss can have a devastating impact on mental and physical health. “When you see these banters it affects the patient, it affects the family, it affects the patient’s well being, their sense of intelligence … ‘Oh I don’t get involved, because I don’t know what they’re saying, and I feel like an idiot,’ ” he says.
“We hear this with our patients. You have an increase in chemical dependency. You have an increase of depression. It just snowballs.”
About 15 percent, or 26 million Americans, between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss from exposure to loud sounds, noise at work or leisure activities, according to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of NIH.
Only one in five people who need a hearing aid actually wears one, according to NIDCD.
“We’re seeing people develop hearing loss at a much younger age. Yesterdays 70s are today’s 50s as far as the hearing loss,” Guerreiro says. The increase in use of electronic devices — particularly in the ears — noise, lifestyle changes and a large baby boomer population are responsible for much of the increase, he says.
Since hearing loss in each person is different, the patient may need to try more than one hearing aid to find a match.
A small number of global manufacturers produce hearing aids that all work well, Guerreiro says, but every brand does not work well for every patient.
“Each hearing aid has its own proprietary algorithm, and the systems inside may not be a match to you, but match someone else.”
Under Florida law, he says, patients have 30 days to return the hearing aids, and suppliers should adhere to that law if the devices don’t work.
Hair cells, Guerreiro says, are like keys on a piano. If you take out a few keys, you may be able to figure out the melody, but playing louder won’t help. The sound is still distorted.
“It’s not a matter of speaking louder,” he says. “It’s that the person does not have enough hearing in the higher frequencies where the consonants are. They get the vowel, but they don’t get the consonants.’’
Cochlear implants can restore a significant percentage of normal hearing. The surgery lasts about two hours and includes a few weeks of recovery time. The patient returns in a few weeks for the device to be switched on.
“Hearing is supposed to be about 80 percent compared to normal, but actually it is much better than most folks in my age range,” Greenberg says. “It is the most exciting event to happen in my later years, one so life-changing and unexpected that I never even knew to wish for it.”