Hearing loss is fast becoming a commonplace medical condition in Singapore. According to the Singapore Association for the Deaf (SADeaf), there are around half a million people living with hearing loss in the country.
Hearing loss happens when parts of our ears are damaged. Depending on whether your inner, middle or outer ear is affected, different types of hearing loss are experienced.
There are three types of hearing loss that we may come to experience over the course of our lives:
1. Sensorineural Hearing Loss
This happens when the inner ear or the hearing nerve is damaged. When damaged, hair cells in the inner ear cannot detect sound waves as efficiently as before. This reduces the amount of sound waves converted to electrical signals for your brain to process, leading to hearing loss.
2. Conductive Hearing Loss
This happens when there is a blockage in the middle or outer ear and sound waves cannot travel into the inner ear to be detected by hair cells in the inner ear. Blockages can be caused by a buildup of earwax, foreign objects stuck in the ear canal, fluid in the middle ear space, infection, ear bone deformities or injury.
3. Mixed Hearing Loss
This happens when you experience both sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. It is possible for a person to first develop sensorineural hearing loss and then develop conductive hearing loss afterwards.
There are also many factors that can increase the risk of hearing loss including:
- Exposure to loud noise
- Inherited genetic predisposition to hearing loss
- Medications like Viagra and select chemotherapy drugs that damage your inner ear
- Illnesses with high fevers like meningitis that damage your inner ear
Hearing loss can affect people of all ages. For most of us, however, hearing loss is an expected sign of ageing and it is perfectly normal to experience gradual hearing loss as we age.
As we grow older, especially past the age of 50, the risk of age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, increases significantly. In fact, one in three adults over the age of 65 experience age-related hearing loss.
Left untreated, hearing loss can impact our daily lives and social well-being as it makes it hard for us to hold conversations with our friends and family. More seriously, it can even prevent us from picking up verbal warnings or alarms in dangerous situations if we are not aware of our hearing loss. It was also found that hearing loss can significantly increase our risk of dementia.
As caregivers, especially for those of us caring for seniors, it is important to look out for signs of hearing loss in our loved ones. Treatment can help to provide relief and remedy hearing loss, enhancing the quality of life for our loved ones.
Who needs Hearing Aids?
One of the most common treatments for hearing loss is the use of hearing aids. They are necessary depending on how badly hearing loss impacts your life.
Here are some common signs of hearing loss for you and your loved ones to watch out for to figure out if you need hearing aids:
- Frequent complaints of mumbling or soft speech from others
- Frequent need to ask others to speak louder, clearer, or slower
- Difficulty hearing others in noisy situations or against background noise
- Prefer higher volume settings for radio and television compared to others around you
- Reluctance to make conversation
- Avoiding social settings
No matter the degree of hearing loss, hearing aids are a suitable treatment option.
How do Hearing Aids work?
Hearing aids are electronic devices that are worn either inside or behind our ears. They amplify sound waves from the environment making it easier for the hair cells in our inner ears to detect them. They thus make sounds clearer and louder for the hard-of-hearing.
A hearing aid has three primary parts:
The microphone picks up sound waves from the environment and converts them into electrical signals to be sent to the amplifier.
The amplifier boosts the electrical signals from the microphone, increasing the signal strength before sending them to the speaker.
The speaker converts the electrical signals back into much louder sound waves for the hair cells in your inner ear to detect, improving your hearing.
Types of Hearing Aids
There are several types of hearing aids available for treating hearing loss. They differ according to size, special features and the way they are placed in your ear. As you decide on the best treatment plan for your hearing loss, here are some common types of hearing aids you may encounter:
Hearing Aid Prices in Singapore
Hearing aid prices in Singapore can vary widely depending on the type of hearing aid, technology involved and features that come with it.
A basic hearing aid can cost several hundred dollars. High-end hearing aids that come with smart technology features, however, can cost up to several thousand dollars. These smart technology features can include the ability to connect to other lifestyle devices such as your phone or laptop, and stream music or classes.
Opting for a higher-end hearing aid with these added perks may incur a significant cost for the average person. This is all the more so, considering that you may require two hearing aids depending on your hearing loss.
It is thus important that we carefully evaluate hearing aid features with our hearing loss needs in mind, before making a decision to purchase one. It would be prudent to consult a medical professional or doctor to better assess and understand your hearing loss needs before you commit to purchasing a hearing aid.
Hearing Aid Subsidies in Singapore
Thankfully, there are several hearing aid subsidy schemes and programmes offered by various organisations in Singapore that helps to make hearing aids financially accessible for all.
Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF)
The Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF) provides subsidies to Singaporean seniors to provide them with holistic support to age in place within the community. Specifically, these subsidies target Singaporean seniors who either require mobility and assistive devices to live independently and to remain active in the community or who receive government-funded home care and care within and community, and need home healthcare items.
Hearing aids are a form of assistive device and are thus permitted to be subsidised under the scheme.
To be eligible for the Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF):
- Care recipient must be a Singaporean citizen aged 60 or older
- Care recipient must not reside in a nursing home or sheltered home
- Care recipient’s household monthly income per person must be $2,000 and below OR the Annual Value (AV) of residence reflected on their NRIC must be $13,000 and below for households with no income.
- Care recipient must be assessed by a qualified assessor, such as an audiologist, on the hearing aid required.
Assistive Technology Fund (ATF)
The Assistive Technology Fund (ATF) is offered by SG Enable, a community organisation, to provide subsidies for persons with disabilities (PWDs) to purchase assistive technology devices for them to live independently.
The ATF provides a means-tested subsidy of up to 90% of the cost of the required equipment, subject to a lifetime cap of $40,000 for successful applicants.
To be eligible for the ATF, you must fulfil the following criteria:
- Be a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident
- Certified to have a permanent disability of any one of the following:
- Physical disability
- Visual impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Intellectual disability
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Undergone qualified assessor’s, assessment to determine the need and type of device(s) ie. an audiologist’s assessment for hearing aids
- Have a household gross monthly income per person of $2,000 and below
You should also approach a therapist or social worker from a hospital or social service agency for assistance with the application.
Learn more about the Assistive Technology Fund (ATF) here.
Hearing Aids and Questions
Now that you have consulted a medical profession and are ready to buy a hearing aid, you may ask, what’s next? Well, planning a treatment plan for hearing loss and buying a hearing aid can be daunting no matter which step of the way you are at. So we have prepared several tips addressing some of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that you may have.
How do I care for my hearing aid?
Your hearing aid should come with an instruction manual. Please read it for instructions on hearing aid care and maintenance. Your audiologist will also offer you detailed guidance once you have gotten your hearing aid.
Hearing aids are typically not waterproof and their electronic components can get damaged from excessive sweating, rain or even moisture. It is therefore important that you store your hearing aid in a dry place, for example, in a dry jar with silica gel.
You should also take care not to drop the hearing aid, as its internal parts might get damaged. It is also common for earwax to get trapped in the sound bore, where the sound is emitted from. Hence, you should make sure to clean your hearing aid regularly to prevent earwax blockage and to keep it running smoothly.
How long does it take to get used to wearing a hearing aid?
The exact length of time that you take to get used to your hearing aid will vary from person to person. This is especially the case if your hearing loss has been gradually taking place over many years.
It should be noted that hearing aids amplify not only speech but also background noises. It can thus be hard to follow a conversation in a noisy situation. While new technology can suppress background noise, the experience may still not be equivalent to normal hearing and can take a while to get used to.
Are there any side effects of wearing hearing aids?
There are no significant side effects of wearing hearing aids. There is little to no radiation emitted by its components. Furthermore, the typical hearing aid has a filter to block out loud noises like thunder, preventing them from injuring your ear.
Of course, it is always best to go for regular hearing tests in consultation with an audiologist as we age so that we can correct our hearing loss at the earliest opportunity and maintain our quality of life.
- Mayo Clinic, Hearing loss [Webpage]. Retrieved 18 February from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hearing-loss/symptoms-causes/syc-20373072
- The Singapore Association for the Deaf, FAQ on Number of Deaf in Singapore [Webpage]. Retrieved 18 February, from https://sadeaf.org.sg/faq-on-sadeaf-and-about-the-deaf-and-hard-of-hearing/faq-on-number-of-deaf-in-singapore/#:~:text=How%20many%20deaf%20people%20are,estimated%20to%20be%20around%20500%2C000.
- John Hopkins Medicine, Types of Hearing Loss [Webpage]. Retrieved 18 February, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hearing-loss/types-of-hearing-loss#:~:text=The%20three%20basic%20categories%20of,should%20know%20about%20each%20type.
- John Hopkins Medicine, Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis) [Webpage]. Retrieved 18 February, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/presbycusis
- South East Hearing Care Centres, What Level Of Hearing Loss Requires A Hearing Aid? [Webpage]. Retrieved 18 February, from https://www.hearingcarecentres.co.uk/what-level-of-hearing-loss-requires-a-hearing-aid/
- Mayo Clinic, Hearing aids: how to choose the right one [Webpage]. Retrieved 18 February, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hearing-loss/in-depth/hearing-aids/art-20044116
- Agency for Integrated Care, Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund – Assistive Devices [Webpage]. Retrieved 18 February , from https://www.aic.sg/financial-assistance/smf-assistive-devices
- SG Enable, Assistive Technology Fund [Webpage]. Retrieved 18 February, from https://www.sgenable.sg/Pages/content.aspx?path=/schemes/equipment-technology-home-retrofit/assistive-technology-fund/