Little sounds carry big meaning for those with hearing loss

Celia Maloy and Audiologist Rodney Brannan share a moment after Maloy receives her new hearing aids at Physicians Hearing Center on Wednesday morning.

It’s the little things that mean so much sometimes.

Whether it’s the air conditioner cycling on and off, a bump in the night, the cooing of grandbabies or just the wind blowing, little sounds have made a big difference for Celia Maloy over the past year.

“My life is enriched, let me put it that way,” the 72-year-old Level Plains resident said. “It’s very much enriched since I’ve been able to hear.”

Maloy was one of five winners in last year’s hearing aid contest sponsored by Physicians Hearing Center and held in conjunction with the Dothan Eagle. The contest has been held annually for about 20 years.

The 2020 contest is underway, with essays accepted by mail or email until May 8. The winner or winners will receive free hearing aids.

For Maloy, the pair of devices has changed her life. A hairdresser for 42 years, Maloy’s hearing suffered from the constant salon noises such as hair dryers. An illness in 2016 made the loss even more pronounced and more difficult for Maloy to afford hearing aids, which can cost between $2,000 and $7,000 for a set.

A year after winning her first set of devices, Maloy said she no longer entertains the entire neighborhood with her TV volume and can hear in church. Her grandchildren, who she can only talk to over the phone these days, no longer have to repeat themselves.

“It is relaxing; it is so relaxing,” Maloy said of life being able to hear clearly. “… Because of the hearing aids, I don’t feel sheltered anymore. When you’re in a group of people and you can’t hear anything but the racket, it makes you feel different. But now I don’t feel different anymore because I can hear and I can respond and relate. It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling.”

Dr. Julie Ann Rikard, director of audiology with Physicians Hearing Center at ENTcare in Dothan, said a lot has changed with hearing aids in just the last year.

Devices with rechargeable batteries are in higher demand, especially as such devices have improved in last three years, Rikard said. Rechargeable batteries last about 19 hours between charges. However, rechargeable devices aren’t a good fit for everybody such as these who sweat excessively, although wearers seem the love them, she said.

“A lot of people can’t handle the batteries or the batteries are a nuisance to them having to change them so often,” Rikard said. “… Taking that away does make it one less thing to deal with. It’s a convenience issue and it really helps some of our patients.”

Remote technology also is being used more, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in stay-at-home orders around the country. Patients who wear devices manufactured in the last three years and who have a smartphone can have their hearing aids adjusted via an app without visiting their audiologist in person, Rikard said. Just make sure you keep track of your password so you can access the app when necessary.

Insurance benefits have changed over the last several years, with more carriers offering some sort of benefit or coverage for hearing aids. In 2020, most Medicare supplemental plans offer a hearing aid benefit, but Rikard said not all benefits cover the full cost of hearing aids. Some plans restrict patients to certain brands or require co-payments.

Rikard said a recent study she read about showed the average age someone starts needing hearing aids is 58 years old. The average age someone actually starts wearing them is 65. The main reason for that gap was not the cost of devices but rather that people don’t believe their hearing loss warrants hearing aids. In other words, they don’t know exactly what they’re missing.

“Hearing loss does happen very gradually, slowly over time,” Rikard said. “Some people don’t even know they have hearing loss.”

Nowadays, Bluetooth technology is the same even if someone opts for an economical set of hearing aids. More expensive devices provide more sound clarity and noise removal in situations with background noise.

“When you pay more for a hearing aid, you’re paying more for it to work harder for you in a challenging situation,” Rikard said.

2020 hearing aid contest  promo image
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