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WHILE we’ll wear glasses to read the newspaper and take NSAIDs to ease our joint pain, many of us are reluctant to wear the hearing aids that can tune us in to the sounds we’re missing - only 25 percent of the people who need hearing aids actually own them, which means the other 75 percent could be working too hard to hear, and missing out on much of the world around them as a result, says the April 2014 issue of the Harvard Medical School Harvard Women’s Health Watch.

By age 65, one in three of us will have more trouble hearing the sounds around us; by age 75, that percentage will jump to nearly half - while hearing aids won’t restore damage to the inner ear, “they substantially reduce the work of hearing if you wear them constantly,” says Dr. Chris Halpin, clinical associate in the Department of Audiology at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and associate professor of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School.

“If you’re having trouble hearing people talking and you are really having to work hard at it, you should get an evaluation to see why that is, and whether you need a hearing aid,” he says.

Your hearing evaluation usually goes through a few steps:

• A visit to an otolaryngologist - who will examine you to rule out conditions or medications that can cause hearing loss.

• If a medical condition is not to blame, you’ll see an audiologist - a specialist who diagnoses and treats hearing loss: He will ask about your hearing history - a) when the problem started; b) who else in your family has hearing loss; and c) whether you have symptoms like pain or ringing in your ears.

• Next, you’ll undergo a hearing test - you sit in a sound booth wearing headphones and you’ll hear a variety of beeping sounds - the audiologist will ask you to raise a finger to signal that you’ve heard the sound.

• Another test will check your ability to recognize speech. These tests can identify whether you’ll benefit from using a hearing aid, and help your audiologist to customize it to your type and degree of hearing loss.

Hearing aids come in a range of models and prices - anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

However, unlike buying a luxury car or a top-of-the-line laptop, you won’t necessarily get better performance at a higher price point, says the health letter.

“What you want to do is cut through the marketing and ask, ‘Do I hear well through this?’” says Dr. Halpin.

“Put it on your ear, turn it up loud, and ask, ‘Do I like this?’ That’s what you’re after. The fanciness is not that important.”

One of the most important features on a hearing aid is also the most basic: the volume control - “Buying a hearing aid without a volume control is like buying a TV without one,” says Dr. Halpin.

Yet, many of the smallest hearing aid models offer no way to adjust the sound level.

Thus, the health letter has this important advice: When you try out the hearing aid, the volume should go up louder than you’d want to hear it, but before it starts whistling - getting a hearing aid that’s louder than you think you need will allow you to hear things you haven’t heard in a long time, like an actor on stage at a theater.

The audiologist will then fine-tune the hearing aid you choose, by programming in your needs - for instance, you might prefer a softer, tinnier sound or a louder, deeper sound.

There are other technologies, along with your hearing aid, or in lieu of it, that can improve your ability to hear, which include:

• A receiver or headset which will deliver the sound of the performers directly without background noise - when you go to a play or concert, check if such a device is being offered by the venue.

• Special headphones may be purchased to help you hear the TV at home more clearly without having to turn the volume up full blast.

• Devices that connect your hearing aid to your cell phone, to boost sound and reduce distortion, are also available.

To learn more about hearing assistive technologies, see the online guide from the Hearing Loss Association of America at www.hearingloss.org/content/hearing-assistive-technology.

Once you have the hearing aid, a few ways to further enhance your ability to hear include:

• Wear them - Don’t just wear your hearing aids for special occasions - put them on every day. They won’t help if you leave them sitting in a drawer.

• Recruit family and friends - Tell the people around you that you want to understand them - so they need to face you when speaking, and avoid yelling. Ideally, try to hold conversations in a quiet room, where background noise won’t be a distraction, the health letter advises.

• Fix issues - If you have problems with your hearing aid, like a whistling or buzzing noise, or discomfort - see your audiologist.

Unfortunately, even the best hearing aid available today can’t restore lost hearing - it can only amplify sound.

However, the turning point in the treatment of hearing loss could come from the ability to regrow the hair cells in the ear that pick up sounds and send them to the brain for processing, says the health letter.

It is somewhat encouraging to learn that researchers at Harvard Medical School announced last June that they have been able to regenerate damaged hair cells in the ears of mice, restoring at least partial hearing in the process.

“There’s a known set of frequencies that are important for speech, and if you could regenerate even a small patch in that area you’d get a giant jump in recognition,” says Dr. Halpin.

However, until researchers can successfully regenerate these hair cells in humans, or whether the therapy would constitute a cure for that type of hearing loss, the best way to ensure better hearing is to get fitted for the right hearing aid and to wear it every day, concludes the health letter.

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