Sounding Off on Hearing Aids for Parkinson’s Disease Patients
My sister, Bev, who has stage 3 Parkinson’s disease, has developed major hearing difficulties since her diagnosis in 2017. Bev has worn hearing aids to treat age-related hearing loss for several years, but they have become less effective, particularly with the onset of Parkinson’s, and Bev struggles to hear the television and both in-person and phone conversations.
Parkinson’s disease can affect the cochlea, which is a hollow bone in the inner ear that plays an important role in hearing. Because dopamine helps protect the cochlea, reduced amounts of dopamine, which occurs in people with Parkinson’s, can damage it and lead to hearing loss.
One study published in 2014 in the European Journal of Neurology found that people with hearing loss were 1.77 times more likely to have Parkinson’s than people who did not suffer from hearing problems. The research team behind this study examined nearly 25,000 people using data from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Program.
I made an appointment for Bev at the Audiology Foundation of America (AFA) Balance & Hearing Institute when she visited me in Arizona last winter. The AFA is part of the Arizona School of Health Sciences at A.T. Still University, a university teaching institution where I was once employed.
I wanted to see if Bev just needed better hearing aids, or if there might be other options to improve her hearing. We learned from the AFA audiologist that Bev’s hearing loss was permanent, and that more costly hearing aids wouldn’t help, given her Parkinson’s progression and her age. However, the audiologist did suggest that we try some assistive technology aids.
Hearing aids for TV, phone
The audiologist suggested Bev try portable wireless speakers or wireless earbuds when watching television. The speakers connect to the TV via an HDMI cable and send the signal directly to the hearing aid so the increased volume won’t disturb others. Earbuds also transmit the sound directly from the TV to the hearing aids so that the volume and clarity can be adjusted.
It’s important that the wireless system be compatible with the brand of hearing aid that’s being used. Phone or cable network providers might even offer discounts and help with installation.
The audiologist also suggested Bev try amplifiers that can increase volume levels on either landline or mobile phones. Many states offer telephone programs, called Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Programs, that provide free or low-cost equipment to those who qualify. Bev got a landline telephone amplifier installed for free.
The audiologist also suggested some behavioral tips that Bev could use to help her with her hearing problems, such as asking people she is talking with to speak slower and to repeat themselves, if needed. Bev often says, “Everyone talks too fast, and it makes it harder to hear and understand what they are saying.”
Communicating is an important part of daily living for all of us. Being able to hear and connect with family members, caregivers, friends, and healthcare professionals is even more vital for someone with Parkinson’s disease. Interventions to improve the quality of life for people with hearing loss are available, but it’s important to address these hearing issues early.
More resources and information can be found at the directory of organizations for the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.