U.S. Prevention Task Force Eases Guidelines on Hearing Tests

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Screening can sometimes catch these problems before they start -- but as Lise Hamlin, director of Public Policy of the Hearing Loss Association of America said, many like Meyer may not even know they have a problem with their ears.

"You don't know, can't know what you're missing," Hamlin, who is hearing impaired, said during an interview conducted over a special voice recognition phone with captioning.

As for whether the new guidelines will change anything, Smullen points out that with everything that needs to get squeezed into a primary care visit, hearing loss was often already getting overlooked even under the old guidelines.

"If the screening requirement is dropped, then even more hearing loss may be missed," Smullen said.

Because of this, some doctors said it was important for patients and their families to be particularly vigilant when it came to the signs of hearing loss.

"Family members should pay attention to their older relatives," Smullen said. If a relative is withdrawing from social situations, avoiding group outings, turning up the television or answering a different question than what was asked, there may be some hearing loss."

Djalilian agreed, adding that people often shy away from this topic, perhaps because of the stigma associated with hearing aids.

"Somehow, people who wear glasses are considered more intelligent, while those who wear hearing aids are considered less," Djalilian said. "It's ridiculous."

As for Meyer, a severe dizzy spell eventually sent her to a specialist. She received a diagnosis of Meniere's disease, an inner ear disorder that affects both balance and hearing. She eventually got hearing aids and later a cochlear implant.

"I feel like my quality of life has been restored," she said. "I don't believe in miracles, but this is a miracle."

Since her experience, Meyer, now 70, has become an advocate for people who have hearing loss.

"It is so helpful for someone to be diagnosed early," she said. "Hearing loss affects everybody, not just you, [but] everybody with whom you interact."

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