Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Feedback Fix for Hearing Aids

by Emily Anderson

May is Better Hearing Month! We talked to Dr. Suzanne Yoder of the HearWell Center for a series of posts on helping your loved one find solutions to common hearing issues. Today we look at a common problem with hearing aids: that whistling, screeching noise that people find so irritating.

According to Dr. Yoder, feedback (whistling in the hearing aids) is preventable in most hearing aids. There are a few reason for feedback including fit problems, poor device maintenance, poor ear hygiene, inappropriate volume, or misunderstanding of how hearing aids work.

1. Fit
Feedback can occur from an improper fit. Over time, the ears change and cartilage stretches, causing hearing aids to become loose. Some hearing aids can be easily remade to fit better by purchasing a new custom earmold. If the hearing aid is not the type that uses and earmold, the hearing aid would need to be sent to the manufacturer along with an impression of the ear to be rebuilt. This may be covered by a warranty on the device depending on the warranty policy. If the hearing aids are refit, the feedback often goes away.

2. Maintenance
Feedback can also occur if the hearing aid is clogged or if the ear is clogged. Having the hearing aids cleaned and the user’s ears cleaned on a regular schedule can help reduce feedback issues. Most people need to have this type of cleaning every 4-6 months, but some people need more care and may return for cleanings every couple months. To avoid having to make appointments for frequent professional cleanings, caregivers can help by learning how to clean the hearing aids at home. There are different methods depending on the type of hearing aid. Every hearing aid comes with a user manual and a cleaning tool kit. If these are not provided, you can request them. Some hearing aids have small filters that can be removed and replaced at home. This is generally inexpensive and may save extra trips in for cleanings.

3. Inappropriate volume
Feedback can occur from a hearing aid that is incorrectly matched to the patient. As hearing declines, many people try to max-out the volume control on the hearing aids. This can also push the hearing aid to work harder than intended and cause it to become unstable. Hearing aids can be reprogrammed to help meet the greater demands of a progressive loss, but as the hearing aid is pushed to work harder than it was designed, it is more inclined to squeaking and squealing. Sometimes, an in-office modification can help re-balance the hearing aid. At a certain point, though, the hearing aid should be evaluated for appropriateness and may need to be replaced. 

4. Feedback is unavoidable when the ear is covered
A hearing aid is made of a small speaker and small microphones in very close proximity to each other. If you cover the ear, it is normal for the hearing aid to whistle. Advanced hearing aids can help stop the feedback using sound wave cancellation, but a small squeak may still occur when it activates this control. In hearing aids made for severe or profound losses, even the best circuit will still whistle if you cover the hearing aid due to the large amount of power flowing through the device. If there is a situation where covering the ear is unavoidable, there is likely an adapter that can be used to help. For example, phone pads that look like little donuts can be added to the handset of the phone to get it away from the hearing aid but still allow the user to use the phone. There are pillows made like donuts for the same reason, allowing people to rest their head without the irritating noise. Adaptations exist in most circumstances so that hearing aids can stay in the ears where they belong--just ask your provider for suggestions!

Dr. Suzanne Yoder earned her Bachelor’s degree from Thiel College 2000, her Master’s Degree in Audiology from the University of Pittsburgh 2002, and her Doctor of Audiology degree from the University of Pittsburgh 2004. She is board-certified by the American Board of Audiology. She has lived in the Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities her entire life. She is a member of the American Academy of Audiology, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Audiology.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tools for Better Hearing

by Emily Anderson

May is Better Hearing Month! We talked to Dr. Suzanne Yoder of the HearWell Center for a series of posts on helping your loved one find solutions to common hearing issues. Hearing aids are just one of many ways that people cope with hearing loss. In the technology age, there are catalogs full of other options, and what you choose depends on what your goal is. Dr. Yoder provided the this breakdown of some common assistive devices for hearing loss:

1. Phones and phone adapters
There are nearly a hundred options for phones for the deaf and hard of hearing, ranging from adding an amplifier to a phone to replacing the phone with a device that captions the calls to using video phone technology. Phones can have special volume amplification, slower speed for playback of messages, flashing lights instead of ringers, captioning and more. Some phones are actually free for patients that qualify (application process required). Adapted phones can be used with or without hearing aids. There are also options to connect bluetooth devices, including bluetooth hearing aids, for handsfree listening.

2. Television adapters
First, try turning on captions for your loved one instead of turning up the volume. Physically moving closer to the television can also help with speech clarity, but nothing compares to streaming the sound directly to the ears. Television adapters allow you to send the sound directly to the person with hearing problems. Some look like headphones and some that look like table-side speakers that you can place near your loved one. They can be used with or without hearing aids, but if your loved one already has hearing aids, asking about an adapter that transmits directly to the hearing aids is the best route.

3. Personal sound amplification 
There are many types of devices that can amplify sounds that are not considered hearing aids. Some look like small music player with headphones or bulky necklaces. There are a few that even look like hearing aids and are worn in the ear. Sound amplifiers are limited because they do not allow for the fine-tuning that you get with hearing aids, but they can help in situations where volume is the only problem. Amplifiers are best used in quiet places and when seated close to the sound source, like when you're at home trying to talk over dinner. Amplifiers generally do not work well for severe hearing loss or for people who cannot hear well in noise.

4. FM systems
An FM system is a sophisticated wireless transmission device for the hard of hearing to use in classroom situations or in personal listening situations where a microphone is needed (church, meetings, etc). This type of system requires the use of two devices: a microphone (which is worn by the talker) and a receiver (which is worn by the person with hearing loss). FM systems often connect with hearing aids but can be used independently. They sometimes look like the user is wearing headphones but other models are very small and inconspicuous, especially if they are attached to hearing aids.

5. Smart device apps 
 There are many apps that can be used with a smart device to turn your a phone into a amplifier by directing sound to the ears via headphones. Some apps can also do voice-to-text translation to help people understand messages left on their phone. Also try turning on captioning for media on your phone or tablet.

6. Public accommodations such as captioning
 Many people do not know that if you go to a theater or music hall and tell them you have hearing problems they are required to accommodate your needs. Many venues offer headphones to listen in, but you can also request captioning to read along with the performance. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires accommodations in these public venues as well as many others. Accommodations can also be found in hotels, museums, airports, schools and more. Just ask! Call ahead for details for any theater you plan to visit.

7. Public looping 
Looping is another type of accommodation that can be very easy to use if you already have hearing aids. Hearing aids equipped with a technology called "telecoil" can tune in to public looping without needing any extra equipment. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Heinz Hall, for example, is looped for anyone who wants to tune in. The telecoil is a feature available in most hearing aids, but the feature needs to be activated and the user needs to learn how to turn it on and off.

8. Religious services
Many churches or other congregational settings have special devices for people with hearing loss. Although they are exempt from the ADA regulations, many churches install systems to use with those that need help hearing. Ask a leader in community what accommodations are available for your services.

Dr. Suzanne Yoder earned her Bachelor’s degree from Thiel College 2000, her Master’s Degree in Audiology from the University of Pittsburgh 2002, and her Doctor of Audiology degree from the University of Pittsburgh 2004. She is board-certified by the American Board of Audiology. She has lived in the Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities her entire life. She is a member of the American Academy of Audiology, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Audiology.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Find Hearing Help You Can Trust

by Emily Anderson

May is Better Hearing Month! We talked to Dr. Suzanne Yoder of the HearWell Center for a series of posts on helping your loved one find solutions to common hearing issues. This week, we start with Dr. Yoder's tips for finding quality hearing care.

Hearing aids are not heavily regulated. You can purchase them online, through the mail, with a retail office, a health provider’s office or in a medical center. It is sometimes hard to know who to trust but there are some simple ways to research options.

1. Look at the credentials of the provider and choose an audiologist if possible. 
 Audiologists have the most education in the area of communication science and hearing disorders and will be best equipped to address your issue well. Credentialed audiologists could have a variety of letters after their name, including "Au.D," "MA or MS," "Ph.D," or "Ed.D or Sc. D." All of these indicate that the person has extensive training in the practice of audiology. If a provider has other credentials than those listed above, they may not be an audiologist, they may be a hearing instrument specialist or a dispenser. 

2. Look for board certification. 
Audiologists have the option to carry board certification which requires them to participate in more rigorous continuing education classes including ethics coursework. You can look up board certified audiologist by visiting the American Board of Audiology.

3. Ask for a referral or read reviews. 
People who are happy with their hearing aids are a testament to the provider that helped them. If you don’t know anyone that wears hearing aids, researching online reviews may help. Also try asking for a referral from you primary care doctor or a specialist who my have a familiarity with audiology providers.

4. Look up providers in online directories from professional organizations.
Professional organizations help ensure the quality of service by ensuring that their members follow a code of ethics, hold appropriate licenses, and have up-to-date training. Check these professional organizations for a list of audiologists who are current members:
American Academy of Audiology 
Academy of Doctors of Audiology 
Pennsylvania Academy of Audiology

Hearing well is important for people who want to stay socially engaged and enjoy some independence. If you think you or your loved one is experiencing hearing problems, use these tips to contact an audiologist and get a hearing check up!

Dr. Suzanne Yoder earned her Bachelor’s degree from Thiel College 2000, her Master’s Degree in Audiology from the University of Pittsburgh 2002, and her Doctor of Audiology degree from the University of Pittsburgh 2004. She is board-certified by the American Board of Audiology. She has lived in the Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities her entire life. She is a member of the American Academy of Audiology, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, the Pennsylvania Academy of Audiology.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Signs of Hearing Loss

by Emily Anderson

Maybe your mom taught nursery school and listened to shrieking children all day and your dad worked a jackhammer on the construction crew, or maybe they just attended too many NASCAR races and rock 'n roll concerts in their day. Whatever the reason, more than half of people 85 or older have significant hearing loss. It's not just older adults though, about a third of middle-aged people have hearing loss as well. These hearing losses impact a person's ability to enjoy everyday social interactions, and can even be a factor in cognitive decline. Since it's a gradual process though, people often don't realize hearing loss is sneaking up on them. 

May is Better Hearing Month, so we've decided to focus all of our posts this month on hearing-related issues. First, check yourself and your loved one for these common signs and risk factors for hearing loss:

  • You ask people to repeat themselves often
  • When more than two people are talking, you can't follow the conversation
  • It seems like everybody else is mumbling or speaking quietly
  • Background noise like traffic or music make it hard for you to understand people
  • Your family complains about how loud your TV or radio is
  • During conversation, you mishear words or give inappropriate answers to questions
  • You're straining to hear what others are saying
  • Social situations feel overwhelming
  • You loved one withdraws or avoids social situations
  • You have a family history of hearing loss
  • Taking medications that can harm the hearing system
  • Diabetes, heart, circulation, or thyroid problems
  • History of exposure to loud sounds at work or leisure

Try giving your loved one this quick quiz to check for signs of hearing loss. You can also try an online hearing test like this one if you aren't sure whether you should be concerned about your hearing. If you discover that your hearing is good right now, consider taking these ten steps to protect it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Get Smart: Upcoming Classes and Events

by Emily Anderson

Spring has sprung, and opportunities to learn and find support are blossoming as well! Check out these classes and events to find support, explore resources, and learn new skills.

Tell Your Story
The University of Pittsburgh is looking for people who are caring for someone age 50+ who are willing to share their story and take a survey for a research study. You will receive $15 for your participation in this 45 minute phone conversation. Call 1-866-627-1923 if you would like to participate.

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is 
April 29, 2017, 10am - 2pm
This nationwide event helps you safely remove dangerous expired or unused prescription drugs from your homes. In Allegheny county, call (412) 459-5000 to schedule a pickup with the sheriff's office, or Click here to find a take-back location near you

Orchard Hill Dementia Caregiver Conference
May 6th, 8am-12:30pm
Orchard Hill Church, 2551 Brandt Rd, Wexford
Explore creative and innovative ways to care for a loved one with memory loss. Experience visual arts, creative ideas, and virtual reality demonstrations. Free with a suggested donation of $5. Click here to learn more and register.

Medicare Basics: A Primer for Understanding the Medicare System
May 18th, 12pm-2:30pm
APPRISE, 1 Smithfield St, Downtown Pittsburgh
The first in the APPRISE annual series of seminars, this session will cover eligibility, enrollment, how the parts of Medicare work, and how to compare the options to find what works best for you. Call Bill McKendree at (412) 661-1670 ext645 or email to register.

Sen. Vulakovich's Senior and Disability Resource Expo
May 19th, 10am-1pm
Springdale Veterans Association, 1151 Pittsburgh St, Springdale
Grab some light refreshments while you explore informational booths that cover a variety of resources for the health, safety, and welfare of older adults.

Tough Conversations--Slowing in Aging, Life Transitions, & Taking Car Keys
May 24th, 6pm-7:30pm
IKOR, 1001 Ardmore Blvd, Forest Hills
Join the experts at IKOR to learn ways to navigate difficult conversations that often come up in the aging process. Register for this free workshop by clicking here.

Where to Turn Resource Fair
May 25th, 8am-12:30pm
David L Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown Pittsburgh
Visit this free event to hear from experts about wellness and visit representatives from community organizations. Click here to register for free.

Powerful Tools for Caregivers
May 25th-June 29th, 6:30pm-8pm
Hope House, 183 Shafer Rd, Moon Twp
A class series held once a week for sex sessions, this program helps family caregivers reduce stress, improve self-confidence, communicate effectively, balance their lives, and increase their ability to make tough decisions. To register for this free class, call (412) 369-4673 or click here for more information.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

National Drug Take-Back Day is April 29th

by Kristen West

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is April 29, 2017 from 10AM - 2PM across the nation. Leaving expired, unused, or old prescriptions around the house can be dangerous for many people in the family. Older adults with cognitive problems might become confused and take the wrong medication. Curious children and young adults may try pills they find or share them with friends. Unused pain medications, in particular, can be dangerous for family members that struggle with addiction.

The Pennsylvania Prescription Drug Take-Back Program helps prevent the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs by helping citizens properly dispose of unused prescription medications. There are two ways you can get rid of your old medications:

  1. Deliver unused or old medications to a secure, permanent Drug Take-Back Box in the community. Click here to find a take-back location near you.
  2. In Allegheny county, call (412) 459-5000 to have a representative from the Sheriff's office pick up unwanted medications at home. See the image below for more information.

For more information on Pennsylvania's Prescription Drug Take-Back Program, click here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How to Recognize & Prevent Caregiver Burnout

by Kristen West

How are you doing today? Do people ask you how you are holding on as you care for a loved one, do you hide your stress and respond with a standard, pleasant reply?

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion often accompanied by a change in attitude. Burnout can occur when caregivers don't get the help they need, or when they try to do more than they are able. Caregivers who are "burned out" may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Look out for signs like increasing irritation, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, and frequent sickness as well. These may be signals from your body that you are getting worn down.

What Causes Caregiver Burnout? 

Knowing why you are experiencing the emotions you feel is one of the first steps in help alleviate caregiver burnout. These are the most common challenges that you may be experiencing:
  • Role Confusion: When are you a caregiver and when are you a spouse, a child, or just a friend? The change in your role with your loved one can feel confusing or spark feelings of grief.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: Often caregivers expect their involvement to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the patient. However, improvements may be hard to see with progressive diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. 
  • Lack of Control: Many caregivers become frustrated by a lack of money, resources, and skills to effectively plan, manage, and organize their loved one's care. 
  • (Too) Great Expectations: Some caregivers expect superhuman feats and angelic patience of themselves, while others believe providing care is their exclusive responsibility and refuse to ask for help. 

How Can You Prevent Burnout?

Burnout is both preventable and fixable. Try some of these steps if you think you are noticing signs of burnout in yourself.
  • Talk to someone your trust about your feelings and frustrations. If you don't feel comfortable sharing with the people in your life, consider attending a support group for caregivers
  • Set realistic standards for your loved one's abilities, know your limits, and turn to others for help. 
  • Don't forget to take care of yourself too! Self-care is not a luxury but a necessity when you are trying to be an effective caregiver for someone else. 
  • Take advantage of respite care services and senior centers. Time apart can you give you both a break while providing you the opportunity to focus on daily household tasks or much needed self-care. 
  • Educate yourself about your loved one's illness so you can provide the most effective care.
  • Stay healthy by eating right and getting plenty of exercise and rest. 
  • Accept your feelings - having negative feelings, such as frustration or anger, is natural and it don't mean you are a bad person or bad caregiver. 

The most important thing to remember in recognizing and preventing caregiver burnout, is accepting inevitable frustrations and being honest about those frustrations. For further reading on caregiver burnout, consider reading these articles from the AARP or Aging Care.