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Hearing loss may cause isolation

Joyce Bell of Attica recognized the tell-tale signs of hearing loss creeping up on her about a year ago. "I noticed I was having to say 'huh' and have people repeat themselves," the 67-year-old said.

She also had to turn up the television really loud. But the main downside to hearing loss has been how it affects her social circle. Bell usually travels to restaurants and to play Bingo with her friends, who drive large vehicles.

"I can't hear at all in the back seat," she said. "So I just quit going with them. I think I'm more of a stay at home person than what I was because it's just very difficult to hear."

Hearing loss can make it difficult to understand conversations and affect someone's overall cognitive function or ability to think coherently through a situation, said Sandy Bratton, an audiologist with Indiana Neuro-Ophthalmology and Center for Balance in Lafayette. This in turn can adversely affect a person's ability to socialize, Bratton added.

"It's takes so much energy to be able to follow a conversation when you've only heard so much of it," Bratton said. "It can make a person seem like they are not paying attention."

Bratton said hearing loss is progressive. "We don't really know at first that we are losing our hearing," she said.

It is also inevitable and can start as early as the late 30s.

Ways to treat hearing loss include hearing aids, cochlear implants for severe cases and oral rehabilitation, which trains the person to use lip reading and visual cues.

To compensate for hearing loss, which is caused by the breakdown of tiny hair cells in the inner ear, some people start to lip-read, others rely on a close relative, spouse or friend to interpret for them. Some just pull away from their social world.

Camilla Goode of Lafayette started noticing a gradual loss of hearing in her right ear between two and three years ago.

"If people did not speak up very clearly and loudly, sometimes it sounded like they were just mumbling," the 77-year-old said.

Similar to Bell, losing her hearing became a hindrance when she attended social functions. Sometimes in Sunday school at her church, Good would have difficulty hearing the speaker or hearing the people who sat across from her at events.

"You don't participate like you should if you can't understand everything," she said. "I guess sometimes it can cause you to feel left out. If you're not understanding what someone else is saying, it made you want to drop out of the conversation."

Goode finally got a hearing aid. "The damage became so severe that I needed a hearing aid," she said.

And now she has noticed the difference. "You can't whisper in the other room without me hearing it," she said. "It brought my hearing back to balance with the left ear."

Bell recently got her first hearing aid. "I hope to be able to hear," she said. "(It) will make life much easier for me and I won't have say 'huh' as much on the phone."



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