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OTC

7/29/2021 by Meg Cates, Au.D.

Did you see Joe Biden talk about hearing aids? I have been hearing about the new hearing aid rules from patients several times over since his announcement of over-the-counter hearing aids, or OTC hearing aids.

This is nothing new.

Consumer electronics have been dabbling in hearing healthcare for decades, quick to jump on the idea that they can provide a “quick fix”. If you look at personal amplifiers, which are very much the same thing under a different branding, you will see countless companies that have come and have gone.

OTC hearing aids are for the purpose of treating slight to mild and moderate hearing loss. They do not require a professional to look in your ear for earwax, they do not clear having someone reviewing the 10 FDA red flag questions of whether you should see an ENT physician for a medical issue. You know what else they do not have? Follow-through and support. OTC hearing aids will be just as susceptible to damage from moisture, ear wax, etc.

Most Americans can afford hearing aids. Those who cannot, I recommend external funding sources (such as the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation) in order to get them professionally fit hearing aids for their best outcomes.

If you get an OTC hearing aid, I would be happy to see you to run an independent analysis of how they are working in your ears for your hearing needs. All of the studies I have seen show time and again that most of these devices on most people are inappropriately fit and not providing the quality of sound required for a successful healthcare outcome.

You deserve to hear your best.

Cognition

6/22/2021 by Meg Cates, Au.D.

June is Alzheimer’s and brain awareness month. The world is starting to open back up again, and many of us are starting to get more cognitive input from person-to-person interaction again. I have a personal connection to Alzheimer’s, as I am sure many of you do. It is a tough, painful issue for a family to go through in the best of times.

There have been an incredible increase of information available and developments on cognitive loss in the past 20 years. Many of you know that cognitive impairment is diagnosed at a much earlier stage these days than even 10 years ago.

Hearing aids help with cognition in a few ways. One of those ways is by providing access. In fact, the latest hearing aid technology has shown to increase cognitive input by perhaps 30% more than previous hearing aids. It has never been a more exciting time in hearing healthcare than now. Another one of those ways is by enabling persons who may have been isolating to socialize again now that their communication has improved.

Hearing loss and vision loss are described in the literature as being some of the two most important controllable factors for continuing to have healthy brain health, working memory in particular. We all need to do our best to keep both in excellent condition.

Happy Better Speech & Hearing Month!

5/3/2021 by Meg Cates, Au.D.

I hope this message finds you well! Many of our patients are in good moods as the world is opening back up again. Right now, I have one of the best jobs on the planet :)

Did you know that May is Better Speech and Hearing month? It’s a month dedicated to raising awareness, cheerleading successes, and pushing forward on progress for the world to focus on a key element: Communication.

For most, hearing is an entry point; it provides access to communication. More and more research is showing hearing loss as one of the most controllable factors in keeping our cognition/memory. We still don’t know a lot about the specifics, but study after study is showing that hearing care is health care. Hearing care is healthy for our brain! I want to keep my cognition and memory as tuned up as I can as I age, and I bet you do too. Other things play a big role too such as vision, ability to produce sounds, and ability to understand language cognitively. Communication is a complex web of connected sensors that work together for us to understand and for us to be understood. No wonder so many Fortune 500 companies spend so much money training their staff on communication every year!

So let us celebrate our successes. Today, we live in a world where if you struggle to produce sounds, trained speech-language pathologists have tools to optimize your capibilities. Today, we live in a world where if you have hearing loss, there are surgically correctable solutions for certain types and advanced technological solutions for the most common. Yes, I’m talking about hearing aids. One day, I want to be able to consult patients with hearing loss how to go about replacing the hearing mechanism entirely. As the world continues research on regrowing outer hair cells in the ear, one day it may be possible! In the meantime, I am grateful that hearing aids today are so advanced and not my Granddaddy’s hearing aids (those whistled all the time back in the '80s!). Today, I am grateful to be seeing the best outcomes to date in my 10 year career as a doctorate level hearing healthcare provider.

So let’s push ahead. Now that we know how big of an impact hearing has on cognition, let’s start getting a baseline hearing test at age 60. Let’s stop letting hearing loss go for 10 years as something that we can cope with when we know that it’s impacting our brain health! Onward!

Depression & Hearing Loss

3/1/2021 by Meg Cates, Au.D.

Depression has been a known risk of hearing loss for decades now. What have we learned? A few highlights:

  1. Risk of depression goes up with untreated hearing loss.
  2. The reason for that depression is likely connected to social isolation from untreated hearing loss. It’s likely to be a domino effect.
  3. Treated hearing loss (usually with hearing aids) can lead to an increase in social interaction and a decrease in depression.
  4. When the same person has hearing loss and depression, cognitive behavioral therapy in addition to treating the hearing loss can be beneficial.
  5. There needs to be much more research in this area.

Want to learn more? Here are a couple of free articles on PubMed:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6698612/pdf/cia-14-1471.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5849471/pdf/nihms946727.pdf

Live Transcribe

2/2/2021 by Meg Cates, Au.D.

I have to say - I am THRILLED!

Have you heard about Live Transcribe? There is both an Android app and an iOS app with the same name. They are two different companies. The apple version works well, but charges $5/month. The Android version is FREE and is a result of a collaboration between Google and Galludet University (learn more here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.audio.hearing.visualization.accessibility.scribe&hl=en_US&gl=US)

Basically, it captions what you say in real time! What a life saver during a time where we are wearing masks!

Vaccine

12/31/2020 by Meg Cates, Au.D.

As of 9:20 this morning, I got the 1st of two Moderna vaccine shots. More information on the Boulder County vaccine rollout can be found here: COVID-19 Vaccines - Boulder County.

So far, I can share that my arm is not sore (I made just to relax and breathe normally while it was administered) and that I have had no adverse reactions as of day 1.

Current information as of today suggests that the 1st dose of the Moderna vaccine can be up to 50% protective, although that information does not change any of our protocols for wearing masks, social distancing, and disinfecting in between every patient appointment.

November Gratitude Series

11/26/2020 by Meg Cates, Au.D.

11/25/2020

Who doesn’t love food? This year, I feel so much gratitude to those who help feed us. From grocery clerks to restaurant chefs to farmers to family members and everywhere in between.

At our home this year, this is our spread: turkey, pumpkin pie, and extra treats for the dog :)

11/17/2020

As Thanksgiving approaches, it seems even more real that we are in a time of a pandemic. Since my immediate family all live out of state, plans are changing this year! Normally, we juggle how to visit as many as we can in a single visit. This year, each set of family have all come up with various virtual accommodations. One family set is ordering restaurant food for family members from afar. Another set is doing a scheduled family zoom meeting. Another set of family is ready to get together over video chat the day after Thanksgiving for holiday crafting.

At the end of this ramble, my point is to say I am immensely grateful for family, both blood family and chosen family. I sincerely hope you hear yours this holiday season.

11/5/2020

It’s November even though it feels like March was just yesterday. This year is so topsy-turvy! Even still, I love a good tradition, and November is a great time to exercise gratitude. Here are a few things I am grateful for today:

  • Christmas lights go up early outside our office. The crew told us long ago that we are toward the front of their long route to wire all the lights. As it turns out, if they don’t start early, they won’t get done. I think ours are some of the last to go down too. So, for the next few months, we get to leave with an early dark sky and a bright lit up street, trees wrapped in cheer.
  • The City of Louisville – my goodness they have really reached out to small businesses this year in our time of need.
  • Always, always our patients
  • The Little Groomer in downtown Louisville for making my dog super-duper fluffy!

Hi, I’m Calling to Just Get Pricing

10/26/2020 by Meg Cates, Au.D.

We probably get this call about once a month if I were to guess. “Hi, I want to know your pricing on this model hearing aid? No, I don’t want an appointment, I really just want to know how much it costs.” Then it becomes obvious that the person on the other like does not want a consultation appointment, it’s either give out the price or they hang up.

I’ve practiced in 4 states and worked at several different kinds of settings. At every place I’ve worked, this question comes up. I’ve heard various responses to this question from front office personnel and I have heard various responses to this question from hearing health providers. And do I ever get it. The last thing I want when I go to a doctor or related healthcare professional office is to be surprised by big bills I cannot afford. I do not want to be surprised that someone is out of network. I do not want to go somewhere and get the same service for a much higher cost when I can go somewhere else that I get good customer service at a much lower cost. I do not want to fall victim to it!

Here’s the thing. I can quote everyone on the phone a range of costs from $2500-6500 for a pair of hearing aids. That’s easy. I can even ask my front office staff to say that. But, without seeing a hearing test and actually paying attention to the healthcare aspect of the transaction, I really do not feel comfortable telling someone that the Phonak Paradise or the Resound Quattro or the Oticon Opn S costs ___ over the phone. Why not? So many reasons!

One: Well, the person on the other line mostly asks about the make, but not the specific model. I had someone ask me about the Phonak Marvel or Phonak Paradise device on the phone. Thing is, there are 5 different technology levels. Phonak Audeo Marvel 30-RT is different than a Phonak Audeo Paradise 90.

Two: Hearing healthcare is healthcare. We price our hearing aids not only by the cost of the device, but also how much service warranty an individual patient requires. Persons who are new to hearing aids often benefit from an inclusive service warranty that is paid for upfront with the hearing aids. Patients who have worn hearing aids for a long time may benefit from saving money on the service warranty since they do not need as much professional support.

Three: The law is kind of funny about pricing. We have thought about posting our prices on our website because I am a fan of fair transparency. On the other hand, that can be considered by some entities as price fixing and we could get in trouble as a business. Considering my risk-averse personality, I honestly don’t feel comfortable giving out specific prices not attached to an actual appointment because what if it is an auditor of some kind? That may seem silly and overly cautious, but I have been known to be overly cautious.

Four: What if the model hearing aid you are interested in is not one I am as familiar with, or my professional judgement and experience is that that particular device is not good for a scenario in which you are expecting benefit? What if after I get to know you using our patient-centered, evidence-based model and I know of something else that would help you tremendously that you might not know about? For example, some hearing aids now have fall detection. Some hearing aids can connect to Zoom calls. Some hearing aids can process background noise in between speech syllables in all directions. Some hearing aids have a steep learning curve to learn all the features, and others are simpler. Some hearing aid apps are quite easy to use regardless of your prowess with technology and others have seemingly endless adjustments you can control.

At the end of the day, my interest is getting every one of my patients their best hearing, because they all deserve to hear their best whatever that may be. As much as I understand wanting transparency in pricing in healthcare, I cannot cheapen the process by giving out prices over the phone when my goal is to provide the best outcome possible and have the happiest patients possible. The market is confusing, and our healthcare system needs work. At our clinic, I choose to put the patient’s hearing health as the focus and go from there. I am happy to have a free consult with new patients at no charge to figure out if we are a good fit and the best way forward.

Inspiration

10/16/2020 by Meg Cates, Au.D.

It never ceases to amaze me what new technology can do. Since hearing health is my job, you can sometimes get stuck into thinking that new hearing aids for someone that has been wearing them for years is simply for the purpose of making sure they have equipment that’s working. After several years, hearing aids just do not work as well because they are micro computers that spend everyday living your life with you.

I’ll be honest, this week has been a hard one. I was out with a sinus infection last week (not COVID, thank goodness). The Cameron Peak fire debris in the air has really upset my upper airway, and I’m running a little slower than usual. We have all had weeks like this.

Enter in a patient of mine who I’ve been seeing for a few years, let’s call him Peter. Peter came in with the same devices I’ve been working on for a few years ever since he moved to the area. We’ve been through some good appointments together optimizing his equipment to hear his best.

Peter came in today and was ready to try something new. I fit him with some new devices, and not two hours later I get an email: Peter is hearing so much better! As it turns out, he has been having a really hard time hearing clearly with all the mask usage in addition to his wife. Peter is so excited that the sound quality is good, and how much easier it is for him to hear and understand what people are saying.