In January, Eileen Kiemelle noticed she was experiencing hearing loss. She’d have to turn the TV volume up consistently, and was also “lovingly reminded” by her children.
“My kids would shout, ‘Mom! You can’t hear!'” said Kiemelle.
She said any conversation she’d have was “like a constant mumble,” and difficult to understand.
So much so, the 71-year-old became familiar with reading lips in her daily conversations. Exposed to a great deal of noise after 35 years of working alongside her husband at a dairy farm, it was inevitable that she’d experience some hearing loss.
But in June, she realized it was time to do something about it.
‘She seems like my daughter’
Kiemelle called over to Amanda Leddige, an audiologist at Sanford Health in Bismarck, North Dakota.
And the two hit it off right away, describing one another with the same word: bubbly.
“She’s just so bubbly, and very easy to talk to. She seems like my daughter. She’s just so nice. The first time I saw her and saw her smiley face I thought, ‘This is going to be so nice,'” Kiemelle said of Dr. Leddige.
“She’s very bubbly. She’s great. I enjoyed every time I got to see her,” Dr. Leddige said of Kiemelle.
Dr. Leddige recommended Kiemelle initially undergo a hearing test. After the test, Dr. Leddige recommended Kiemelle try hearing aids, and Eileen was more than ready, something that isn’t common in all hearing loss patients.
“Eileen was the ideal candidate because she was so motivated. She wanted to hear better. She knew that she was missing out, and she didn’t want for that to be her life anymore. She’s very close with her family, and they were growing increasingly concerned that her communication ability wasn’t what it used to be,” said Dr Leddige.
Dr. Leddige explains that Kiemelle’s willingness to try hearing aids is unique because “there’s still a stigma associated with hearing aids.”
“People think hearing loss is something that happens to older individuals. They think of hearing aids as being clunky and bulky. The reality is that we’ve come a long way and we know that for many people, hearing loss begins in their early 50s. We don’t consider that old,” she said.
Once Kiemelle tried the hearing aids, she noticed a night-and-day difference.
“When my microwave went off, I thought there was an alarm going off,” she said.
Not only in her daily activities, but in time spent with her family.
“Now I’m hearing things from my family that I might not want to,” Kiemelle said with a laugh.
Recently, Kiemelle has had to care for her grandchildren, because her daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, and her son-in-law had a heart attack.
“I have to take care of the grandkids, and the hearing aid has helped a lot. The other night my granddaughter came over for supper, and it was nice to just have a clear conversation. I don’t have to look at her and read her lips. I could just talk to her,” she said.
Kiemelle says there’s no shame in wearing hearing aids, and echoes Dr. Leddige’s sentiment on the advancements in technology.
“With the old time versions you hear a lot of buzzing; they don’t do that anymore. You don’t have that buzzing. They’re really amazing, and are so tiny no one knows you have it in. I’ll forget sometimes, I’ll go to bed and go, ‘oops here’s my hearing aid,'” she said.
“We’re able to make all of those components of the hearing aids, the receiver, the microphones, the chips, all of those components are getting smaller. It’s easier to package into a smaller shell or a smaller hearing aid. We’ve seen improvements in background noise, we’ve seen improvements in wind noise,” said Dr. Leddige.
In many hearing aids, there’s now improvements with cell phone technology. Patients can connect to a hearing aid app through Bluetooth. Using that app, a patient can make changes, create custom programs, adjust the volume, and find hearing aids if they’re lost.
“It’s really great technology. I love it,” said Kiemelle.
New hearing clinic
Sanford Health only recently opened the Sanford Hearing Center, where Dr. Leddige practices in downtown Bismarck, North Dakota.
Both Kiemelle and Dr. Leddige say the clinic is a big improvement and allows for a one-stop-shop type setting.
“You can come here and receive your evaluation,” said Dr. Leddige. “We can consult with patients regarding what technology we feel is best for them, and the style of hearing aids. We fit the hearing devices here, we do all of the follow up care here, too.
“We’re right beside ear, nose, and throat. That way, if there’s any medical needs that arise, we can get a patient over there and they can be seen there, too.”
Kiemelle says the clinic location may have changed, but the expert care didn’t.
“When you walk out of there, you feel like you’ve been with your best friend.”
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