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Lending an ear – Digital technology helps when hearing fails

Say what?

According to experts, most people don’t notice hearing loss until seven years into the deficiency.

“The biggest thing you have to do is recognize it,” said Grass Valley audiologist Stephen Blakemore. “There are 28 to 30 million Americans with hearing loss in that seven-year time period.”



To relieve the problem, Blakemore and others in the area sell hearing aids. Audiologists like Blakemore have a college degree and often work off referrals from ear, nose and throat doctors and family physicians. Others have state licenses to sell hearing aids and must pass a California certification test to give hearing tests and fit people for hearing devices.

Other devices help the hearing impaired, including message-sending cochlear implants placed by doctors in deaf people under the skin and behind the ear. Telephone, TV and radio systems can be amplified for hearing-impaired people, as well.




What the locals dealing in hearing loss all agree on is that consumers should not be taken by hearing aid salespeople who are passing through town or dealing through the mail.

“If there is no connection to the area, that is not a good thing,” said Dr. Eleanor Wilson, an audiologist with a doctoral degree and a representative for Oticon hearing aids. Wilson was in Grass Valley this week, giving a seminar to educate prospective hearing aid purchasers about what to look and ask for.

Blakemore once saw a hearing aid operation being run out of a van that sent tests back to Ohio to fill hearing aid orders.

“I was stunned,” he said. “You can’t follow up” when dealing with such an outfit.

Specialists agree that annual hearing checks are a must and should be done routinely during physical exams. The California Department of Consumer Affairs suggests doing it for children every year before school.

That department also watches over audiologists and hearing aid dispensers and lists their certifications. You can find out if a provider has a bad history on the department’s consumer affairs Web site, http://www.dca.ca.gov, by clicking on “License and Complaint History.”

One such certified hearing aid dispenser is Vinton Koklich of New Era Hearing Center and Beltone Hearing Aid Center in Grass Valley. According to his wife, Karen Koklich, who manages the center and is a hearing aid technician, the state certification brings legitimacy to their business.

The Kokliches do a lot of their work from referrals and do not have many drop-ins. People normally schedule a hearing test with the centers and then a decision is made about what, if any, hearing aid is needed. The centers do not have a staff audiologist, but they do share information with those in the area for fitting customers with aids.

Mrs. Koklich said a person takes from one to three months to get used to hearing aids. The centers also counsel families about what to expect from a loved one who is hearing impaired.

“Some times a hearing loss is severe and it takes a little longer to get used to,” Mrs. Koklich said.

Mrs. Koklich said her husband looks for red flags during his tests, such as impacted ear wax, swelling, deformities or drainage. “Anything like that, we recommend they see a doctor,” before going any further.

Hearing rumors

According to Wilson, there are two rumors about hearing aids that are simply false. They do not eliminate background noise or make hearing normal again.

“We’re working with the signal, not your organ,” Wilson said, “but we can make better use of what you have.”

One word, Wilson said, describes today’s hearing aids: digital. Most companies have phased out their nondigital hearing aids, with only a few left that customers can adjust.

Digital hearing aids adjust by themselves, and the sound quality is better. The difference is like listening to music on an old record with scratches and squeaks compared to a CD, Wilson said.

Many advertisements draw attention to small hearing aids for aesthetic reasons, Wilson said, “but the cute little one are not the best for most people. … The bigger sizes typically can help you the best.

“Hearing aids are not to make you look better,” Wilson said, “they’re to make you hear better.”


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