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Harvard Medical School & M.I.T. trained audiologist, Dr. Keith Darrow, serves as Director of Audiology Research for Hearing & Balance Centers of New England. In addition to his extensive training as an audiologist, Dr. Darrow’s expertise includes a Ph.D. in the field of Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology. Thanks to his unique background, significant knowledge, and notable experience, Dr. Darrow is able to provide our Worcester hearing center with significant research, understanding, and comprehensive training. All of this is necessary to properly analyze, diagnose, and treat your or your loved one’s hearing impairment at our Worcester hearing center, which serves Worcester, Sturbridge, Leominster, Milford, Shrewsbury, Holden, Paxton, Sterling, Auburn, and Leicester, MA.
In addition to his role at Hearing & Balance Centers of New England, Dr. Darrow is a Research Associate at the Eaton Peabody Lab at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, where he works on auditory physiology and auditory prostheses. He is also a professor of Hearing Science, Audiology, Research, and Assessment and Treatment of Balance Disorders at Worcester State University. Dr. Darrow is the founder of Hearing and Balance Centers of New England, which specializes in the diagnosis of hearing loss, the brain’s auditory processing capability, and assessment of your cognitive load (i.e., quantifying how hard your brain must work to hear when there is background noise.)
Dr. Darrow’s research, treatment methods, and quality of hearing care can be experienced by working with the trained team of hearing specialists at our Worcester hearing center. In addition, you can request to attend seminars or workshops conducted by Dr. Darrow throughout the year.
My name is Dr. Keith N. Darrow, and I’m a neuroscientist and clinical audiologist in Worcester, MA! When people hear what I do for a living, they almost automatically… wince! They try not to be too obvious about it. (Hey, audiologists have feelings, too!) But it’s usually there, if only for a brief moment. It’s okay; I’m used to it. The fact is, the less you know about audiology and treating hearing loss, the more reason you have to be afraid of it.
Once upon a time, audiology meant one thing: big, heavy, ugly ‘beige bananas’ to be worn on your ear to make sounds louder. They were hard to put on, they were hard to make adjustments to, and, frankly, they were pretty terrible at doing anything other than making all sounds louder… this includes speech, background noise, loud ventilation machines, dogs barking, plates clanging, etc.!
For the majority of patients, wearing an old-fashioned hearing aid meant avoiding certain social situations: restaurants, family gatherings, playing with grandchildren, etc. Many people still cling to the unfounded notion that all hearing aids are created equal – and are performed the same way they were back in 1982!
The fact of the matter is that audiology and the clinical science of treating hearing loss is more than just hearing aids. How much more? Technically speaking, audiology is the specialty of hearing loss treatment devoted to restoring an individual’s clarity and personal independence, improving their cognitive function, and reducing the risk of developing dementia.
Maintaining proper hearing and cognitive health has a significant impact on a patient’s life – including all of their family, friends, and community members. Properly stimulating cognitive function and maintaining connections from the ear to the brain go a long way to keeping a patient mentally competent and autonomous, and they help keep at bay the mind-robbing diseases associated with cognitive decline (e.g., Alzheimer’s). Treating hearing loss is a wonderful investment with life-long returns, and yet people still fear walking in to the audiologist’s office for one simple reason – fear of the unknown!
Being in hearing health care as an audiologist for 20 years, I have come to learn the many fears that keep people from coming to see my colleagues and me. What are some of them, and – what’s more – how many of them are there? I will say that, in my experience, the following are The Top 5 Reasons People Avoid Seeing the Audiologist:
Individuals with hearing loss have a tendency to wait nearly 7 years before raising their hand to openly admit they have an issue with hearing. Or perhaps it takes a family member nearly 7 years to push their loved one through our office door!
Either way, 7 seems to be the “unlucky” number – I say “unlucky” because chances are very high that by the 7th year of experiencing the symptoms of hearing loss, significant damage has been done to the auditory system, which can lower the treatment outcomes. I try to explain to all of my patients that hearing loss is a progressive degenerative disorder with neurologic involvement that requires early intervention. In lay terms, that simply means that your hearing will continue to degrade as you age, and the key to maintaining clarity and a higher level of hearing function (i.e., hearing in noisy environments) is to “catch it early and treat it early.”
Insurance is a complex world to try and muddle through, and when it comes to hearing health care coverage, it can be even murkier! BUT… nearly every insurance company I have come across allows for one hearing evaluation per year by a trained hearing specialist (and more testing can be covered if medically necessary, i.e., if the patient notices a significant sudden change in hearing.) A hearing evaluation is often considered “preventative” and in many cases does not require a referral from your physician.
Its like magic – once you turn the respectful age of 60, you notice that your inbox of mail seems to change. Nearly every week, perhaps a few times a week, you are “blessed” (I’m being sarcastic!) to have a full mailbox (both your physical and electronic mailbox) with literature about “essential vitamins for seniors,” “how to choose the right assisted living residence,” “how to invest your retirement money,” “join AARP,” and which “digital hearing aid is best.”
Somewhere along the line, hearing health care started down the dangerous road of becoming a retail transaction. Heck – I’ve even seen some hearing aids sold at big-box retailers alongside of vats of peanut butter! Although I don’t know who would ever consider buying medical treatment of a progressive degenerative disorder and bulk amounts of toilet paper in the same transaction… some generic volume-amplifying hearing aids can be found in these types of stores. Like I ask my patients – “would you get your colonoscopy performed at one of the big-box chains? NO… so why would you treat your hearing loss there?”
I don’t blame the patient for sometimes thinking of hearing health care as a retail transaction, but only true audiologists have the goal of diagnosing and managing your hearing loss following best medical practices.
We all know somebody, perhaps a family member of a friend, who has spent a significant amount of money on an old-fashion hearing aid only to use it as a paperweight or to leave it in their sock drawer! And I believe the reason for this is that the glorified over-priced amplifier that they purchased was never really designed to improve hearing or clarity – it was designed to just make sounds louder. This truly angers me.
I have heard many horror stories about patients spending upwards of $10,000 on a pair of hearing aids– YIKES!! More often than not, this very high retail transaction very likely took place in one of the chain hearing aid sales shops (e.g., the “Miracle Hearing” and “Bellstone” shops. FYI – the real names of these retail establishments have been altered in an attempt to reduce my chances of being sued!) When you are working with an audiologist committed to the medical treatment of hearing loss, then you can trust that you are in good hands and will only be asked to invest in technology that can help improve your hearing, enhance your cognitive function, and improve your quality of life.
Lets be honest… everybody hates hearing aids. In fact, when you make reference to old-fashioned volume-enhancing hearing aids, I think you could go so far as to say “hearing aids s*ck!” There you have it… I said it!
I’ve been working with hearing-impaired patients for nearly 20 years, and I don’t see a reason to tip-toe around this subject or ignore the fact that patients generally do not like using hearing aids. Nobody wants a medical disorder that requires physically tethering something to his/her body to treat the medical condition. People who wear glasses do not actually want to wear glasses, although I do know some people who wear non-prescriptive glasses because they supposedly look “cool.”
For some people, hearing aids carry a stigma of meaning “I’m old and ready to die.” And nearly everyday, I see a patient try and talk themselves out of investing in hearing health care treatment because “well, I won’t be around much longer anyway.” My response is always the same – if you live for 3 more days, 3 more months, 3 more years or even 30 more years (which is not unreasonable to expect from my 58-year-old patients), “isn’t it worth being a part of the conversation, hearing what your children and grandchildren have to say, and staying active… no matter how long you are on this planet?” I also point out to patients that you will appear to look much older if you continue to say “what?” or “huh?” all the time, or perhaps even worse, start to isolate yourself from the conversation. Fortunately today’s hearing loss technology, Neurotechnology™, is incredibly discreet and comes in several invisible styles.
If you’ve shared any of these concerns, hopefully this brief discussion has put your mind at ease that you are not alone. But don’t stop now; there’s much more to explore here. In my practice, I see patients like you every day. You’re worried about your hearing, about your brain health, and about your personal relationships, but you are none too eager to jump right into the world of hearing aids.
We see patients who are self-conscious about their hearing loss and concerned about their cognitive decline as they age, and people who have taken to socially isolating themselves from their family, friends, and community.
The book is called Stop Living In Isolation because there is simply no reason for you or a loved one to fear treating hearing loss and keep yourself from staying active, engaged, and independent as you age.
What you and your family need aren’t more questions, but answers. You don’t need more doubts; you need results. Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’m an audiologist, and I’m here to help.
I’m glad you asked: my best patients are active participants in their healthcare decisions. The fact is, being proactive in your hearing health can give you a lifetime of benefits. If you are reading this page, then chances are you already have questions about your or a loved one’s hearing. I therefore invite you to schedule a completely free hearing assessment at any of our state-of-the-art hearing centers throughout Worcester.
Providing you or your loved one the opportunity to stay in the conversation and maintain proper cognitive health is an important investment. The time and effort you spend researching audiologists now will lead to a confident decision in the type of care you receive and when you receive it. Simply stated, effort equals result. Be an active participant in your hearing healthcare now and reap the rewards for a lifetime.
This short book is meant as a guide for patients and family members who are unfamiliar with audiology. Maybe you have normal hearing, maybe you haven’t had someone close to you suffer from hearing loss, but you want to provide this important investment for you and your family. Like any unfamiliar endeavor, the initial steps can be overwhelming. Giving you the confidence to make decisions about the timing of your hearing loss treatment is the basic goal of this publication. In fact, this book answers over two dozen of the most commonly asked questions about audiology and treating hearing loss. Stop Living In Isolation is easy to read and will serve as a quick reference and valuable resource in the journey of improving your life through improved hearing and clarity.