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Tip: Boomers set themselves up for hearing loss

If your biggest grumble is that everyone you know mumbles, now hear this: Maybe the problem is you.

"When someone repeatedly believes that other people are mumbling or speaking too softly, that is the No. 1 sign they have suffered hearing loss," says Alison Hoffmann, an audiologist and co-owner of the Advanced Hearing Center in Albertson and Floral Park.

Losing some hearing is common as we age. The effects of age-related hearing loss are very subtle, and the condition advances very slowly. "The person suffering the hearing loss does not even recognize it is occurring," Hoffmann says. For many boomers, because of decades of listening to loud music, they are suffering hearing loss at an earlier age than their parents. "Boomers have set themselves up to be hearing-aid candidates," Hoffmann says. "They are more prone to having hearing loss, especially in the high frequencies, which directly affects your speech understanding."

The hardest part is getting boomers or seniors to admit they have hearing problems. Hoffmann says typically it is a spouse or child, tired of repeating the same words, who persuades the loved one to get help.

Although age-related hearing loss usually can't be reversed, it's important to get it treated. "If you need a hearing aid, catching hearing problems early will raise the chances of success," Hoffmann says. "If a long period of time goes by where the brain is not expected to tune out background noise or filter speech in the presence of noise, then it's much more difficult to perform those tasks.'' Treating hearing loss can also help avert related emotional problems. Hoffmann says some people with untreated hearing problems become more isolated and less involved with friends and family, which can lead to depression.

Hoffmann offers resources and information on her company's Web site, ahearingcenter.com. You also can fill out a hearing questionnaire at the Web site operated by the Better Hearing Institute (betterhearing.org), a not-for-profit industry group. Click on the link to "BHI Quick Hearing Check" on the home page. The Better Hearing Institute also offers several free pamphlets and booklets. You can download them at the Web site or call 800-EARWELL.

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