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Convincing a parent that it’s time for hearing aids

Convincing a parent that it’s time for hearing aids: NJ ‘Top ENT Doctor’ explains how to be heard, not tuned out

Older parents appreciate comments on their diminished hearing about as much as they welcome critiques of their driving, but Scott Kay, MD, said there are compelling reasons for adult children to raise the delicate subject.

“We’re all aware of how hearing loss can affect social interactions, but that isolation is only one of many reasons to rehabilitate hearing sooner rather than later,” said Dr. Kay, a board-certified ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. The founder of Princeton Otolaryngology Associates in Monroe and Plainsboro, Dr. Kay has been honored this year as a “Top Doctor,” as he has for more than a dozen consecutive years.

“As hearing loss persists, people lose their ability to process the auditory information their brains receive, leading to neurocognitive problems. Further, diminished hearing capacity is associated with an increased risk for falls. Studies using a technique called posturography have evaluated people with hearing loss and found that those individuals had better balance when they were using hearing aids than when they removed the aids,” said Dr. Kay, who received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and completed a residency in otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

Four Points to Share with Parents

Of course, recognizing that a parent can benefit from hearing aids is one thing; convincing him or her to use the devices is quite another. As the son of an octogenarian parent with significant hearing loss, Dr. Kay sympathizes with the challenges adult children face in discussing the topic with their mothers or fathers, but said that sharing four points with parents can make for an effective, action-generating conversation.

“First, hearing loss is a medical issue, not something that is cause for embarrassment or denial,” Dr. Kay said. “I mentioned that hearing loss can lead to diminished cognitive function and an increased risk for falls. Those are two medical problems that older people dread, in part because they can necessitate moving from your own home into a nursing home. By attending to hearing problems, people can partially address the risk for those issues.”

The otolaryngologist added, “Second, it is worth emphasizing that having an evaluation is important because hearing loss may not represent the inevitable consequences of aging. I see many older people whose hearing issues result from wax impaction or the presence of fluid behind the ear, both of which are highly treatable and reversible causes of hearing problems.

“Third, there are important reasons to act sooner rather than later. Research has shown that the ability to understand language degrades over time in people with ongoing hearing loss, so that the longer they wait to start using hearing aids, the amplification and clarification of sound provided by those devices may not, in themselves, provide the benefits they would have if employed earlier,” Dr. Kay said.

“Fourth and finally, beyond the language-processing problems that can arise from unaddressed hearing loss, there is the issue of needlessly missing out on so much of life. The ability to enjoy conversation with friends and family, to listen to music, and to feel fully aware and part of what is happening around us are important to all people, but those things take on a heightened value and poignancy in people’s later years,” said the ENT specialist.

A Streamlined Approach to Hearing Evaluation

The physician said that a comprehensive hearing evaluation can be conducted efficiently at a single visit. “In our Monroe and Plainsboro offices, I examine the structure and health of the ear, while our experienced audiologists obtain an audiogram and perform other assessments that give us a detailed understanding of a patient’s hearing. If the person would benefit from hearing aids, we often can have him try a pair of hearing aids that same day,” he said. Dr. Kay added that recent advances in hearing aid technology and design have greatly enhanced the devices’ effectiveness and appearance.

“A really well-fit hearing aid will not be visible to most people,” Dr. Kay said, adding that some devices are so small and fit so snugly into the ear that they are semi-permanent, and are changed roughly every three months. Dr. Kay noted that the audiologist team at Princeton Otolaryngology includes two doctors of audiology and a specialist with a master’s degree in audiology and more than 25 years of experience. “The audiologists and I work very closely with our patients and their families, not only to provide a thorough hearing evaluation but also to understand each patient’s specific lifestyle, needs and goals so that we can develop and implement the best approach for that person.”

Dr. Kay added that both the Monroe and Plainsboro offices employ stringent screening, masking, social distancing and sanitizing procedures to guard patient health during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, an adult child, spouse or other person is able to accompany patients for hearing evaluations. Telehealth visits are available for other purposes.

For many patients, the physician noted, the improvement provided by hearing aids can be overwhelming. “It’s almost like a ‘Eureka!’ moment. It can be kind of emotional,” Dr. Kay said.

Beyond evaluating and treating hearing loss, Princeton Otolaryngology Associates provides care to people experiencing conditions including sleep apnea and snoring, swallowing problems, hoarseness and other throat disorders, nasal obstruction and sinusitis, balance problems and vertigo/dizziness, facial nerve disorders and facial paralysis, and reconstructive and aesthetic facial surgery. In addition to his otolaryngology/head and neck surgery residency at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, Dr. Kay completed two years of general surgery residency at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia and Mount Sinai Medical Center. Following his residency training, he completed fellowship training in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh. The fellowship included a focus on facial nerve reanimation. During this period, he also received additional training in endoscopic surgical techniques, with an emphasis on sinus surgery. He has drawn on the skills acquired in that training and in his more than 25 years in practice to provide pro bono care to victims of abuse through the Face to Face program.

For more information about hearing evaluations and the other services provided by Princeton Otolaryngology Associates, or to make an appointment to see Dr. Kay at the practice’s Monroe or Plainsboro offices, call (609) 445-4445 or visit www.drscottkay.com.

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