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Hear what you're missing

Peggy Shireley had a positive impact on her professional and person activities when she started using hearing aids
After enduring hearing loss for most of her life, Peggy Shireley
(right) said her decision to use a hearing aid has had a positive
impact on her professional and personal activities. To Shireley’s
right is Scott Weissman; both Shireley and Weissman work for the Inter Agency Program for Assistive Technology in Bismarck.
  Peggy Shireley used to come home from work exhausted. But these days work goes easier. Shireley gives the credit to her new best friend—a hearing aid.

Shireley, who long resisted the idea of wearing a hearing device, is an enthusiastic convert. Having been employed for 16 years in Bismarck with the Inter Agency Program for Assistive Technology (IPAT), Shireley is an expert at helping people with disabilities get physical aids that improve their independence and ability to function.

“Even though I had worked with disabilities my whole career, when it was me, it was hard to admit I needed an assistive device to help myself,” Shireley said. “For some reason, there is still kind of a prejudice about hearing aids.”

“Many people don’t realize how much hearing aid technology has improved and how tiny hearing aids are now,” said Sanford Health audiologist Debra Arneson-Thilmony, AuD. Shireley was fitted with an open-fit aid, which provides extremely clear amplification even though it is incredibly small.

“The difference with the open-fit designs is that they don’t block or plug up the ear,” Dr. Arneson-Thilmony explained. “Patients complained that with the old models, they felt like something was stuffed in their ear and they were talking in a tin can. With the new designs, the digital technology and physical design make aids very tiny and comfortable.”

Hearing loss generally occurs gradually and is most often
caused by genetics or noisy environments such as farming and hunting, Dr. Arneson-Thilmony said. Family members are likely to notice the problem first.

Even as a child, Shireley failed hearing tests for her right ear. Over the years, she learned to compensate. As she aged, though, hearing in her left ear diminished and the hearing loss in her right ear became more pronounced. She compensated even more by learning to read lips and positioning herself so her good ear was on the side where a person was speaking to her.

“My husband and son have several good stories about my inappropriate replies to comments I didn’t hear right,” she said. “The number of times where I would misread or mishear what people said and then give inappropriate responses kept increasing. It started to interfere with my life. I’d known for a long time I should address my hearing problems.”

On the average, Dr. Arneson-Thilmony said, people wait seven years before seeking help with hearing loss and, like Shireley, go through a period of denial and resistance before they are ready to move forward.

“Most people don’t even notice I am wearing a hearing aid,” Shireley said. “I didn’t realize how loud I talked and how much I didn’t hear any more until I began wearing it. I wondered how many years I had been yelling at people and thinking I was speaking in a conversational voice. You don’t really realize how

  Dr. Debra Arneson-Thilmony
Debra Arneson-Thilmony, AuD
Audiology
bad it’s become. I was constantly looking at people’s faces for contextual cues, reading lips and moving around the room trying to hear them better.”

At work, Shireley once again enjoys making public presentations and interacting with people in the audience without worrying about whether or not she hears and answers their questions appropriately. And at home, she’s the one who thinks the volume is set too high when she and her husband watch television.

Dr. Arneson-Thilmony encourages people who are experiencing hearing loss to talk to their family doctor or contact Sanford Hearing Centers. She recommends seeking hearing experts that are audiologists. Doctors of audiology have eight years of higher education specific to diagnosing hearing loss and treatment.

Audiologists at Sanford Hearing Centers provide hearing tests and education about a patient’s options. Patients interested in purchasing hearing aids can be fit with devices and try them during an adjustment period. If they so choose, they are able to return them during that period.

Purchasing hearing aids can be a life-changing decision. “Hearing aids should never lie in dresser drawers, they should be on your ears improving your quality of life,” Dr. Arneson-Thilmony said.

“Don’t wait,” Shireley added. “I’d tell people sooner is better. It was a good decision that I wish I’d made sooner.”

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