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Boulder County audiologists maintaining services during coronavirus outbreak

Isolation, anxiety amid pandemic endangers hearing-impaired

Marty Aragon drops off hearing aids to be cleaned at Hearing HealthCare Centers in Boulder on April 6, 2020. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
Marty Aragon drops off hearing aids to be cleaned at Hearing HealthCare Centers in Boulder on April 6, 2020. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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Experiencing heightened stress or anxiety in response to reduced income, isolation and feeling stuck at home amid public health orders meant to slow the coronavirus spread may be common among Boulder County residents right now.

But for residents who have hearing issues, additional loneliness or nervousness can be especially exacerbating factors contributing to mental health declines, as well as to problems like hearing loss and tinnitus, a condition of ringing or buzzing in the ears.

Luckily for residents with hearing impairment, local audiologists have found ways to continue helping their clients during the outbreak and resulting business closures.

Hearing HealthCare Centers, which has eight offices along the Front Range including in Boulder, Longmont, Broomfield and Loveland, has established drop boxes in front of its clinics to allow for hearing aid repairs and cleanings to continue, and is performing telehealth consultations for those worried about hearing loss or tinnitus.

“Hearing loss can already cause social isolation and when that goes untreated, it can lead to depression and even dementia,” said Whitney Swander, a doctor of audiology and owner of Hearing HealthCare centers. “We are just really passionate about making sure our patients are not ‘off-the-air’ for longer than they need to be, which is why we are remaining available for drop-off services of hearing aids that are not functioning.”

The American Tinnitus Association industry group decided to offer its Spring 2020 edition of its publication Tinnitus Today to read for free online at ata.org as the pandemic struck the country, in hopes of providing easier access to resources for managing anxiety and depression, which can be caused by the condition.

“It is a very real thing, we absolutely know that stress and anxiety can exacerbate tinnitus,” Jill Meltzer, who is also a doctor of audiology and chair of the board of the American Tinnitus Association.

Recommendations people wear masks over mouths and noses outside their homes on trips to perform essential duties or obtain necessary goods or services to prevent contagion during the lock down create new barriers for the hearing impaired, as well, Meltzer and Lafayette-based audiologist Julie Eschenbrenner said.

“They’ve lost out on a bit of speech reading. Even people with normal hearing don’t realize how we count on some of the visual cues,” Meltzer said.

Eschenbrenner has been tweaking her business model to continue to help clients without meeting, too, and said some hearing aid manufacturers have begun sending parts directly to consumers, which is unusual.

“I have been delivering things on patients’ doorsteps without touching them, talking through replacing parts over video chat, over phone calls so they can fix what they need fixing so they can hear, talking them through how to link their telephone to the television, how to link their telephone to their hearing aids,” Eschenbrenner said.

Meltzer suggests people suffering tinnitus explore mobile phone applications that play soothing sounds geared toward enhancing mindfulness, or engage in activities that require focus to help alleviate the issue.

“It’s a good way to sort of check out for a few minutes. So many of the apps are free, so it’s not a stress on one’s wallet,” Meltzer said. “Do physical activities, something that requires concentration, do a jigsaw puzzle, sudoku, coloring books. … Certainly tinnitus can be very isolating, hearing loss can be very isolating, and each of them can be exacerbated by stress and anxiety, especially with tinnitus. It becomes a vicious cycle.”

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