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Helping you hear what you’re missing

Have you ever tried to carry on a conversation in a crowded restaurant and not been able to understand what was being said? Do you occasionally hear the sounds but not quite catch the words? You may be experiencing the early stages of hearing loss. There’s a place in Covington that maybe can help. 

Before opening Covington Hearing opened in August of 2017, owner Susann Shriver worked as an audiologist with a local physician’s office for almost 20 years. The first thing you notice when you walk into the waiting room on Hospital Drive is that it more resembles a living room than a waiting room. According to Shriver, that was by design.

“In opening Covington Hearing the vision was to have more of a home feel, patient centered care,” she said, “ We do hearing testing - that’s the primary job of an audiologist is to assess hearing and hearing loss.”

Shriver said Covington Hearing sees patients from school age all the way through older adults and hearing aids, if needed, are not usually covered by insurance.

“Primarily, if you think about it in today’s modern world, a majority of the time hearing aids are not covered by insurance,” she said. “So it is a patient’s investment that they’re making.” 

Especially the older patients.

“They’ve had to save for their retirement,” she said, “and here they are having to take a chunk out of it in regard to their hearing.”

Shriver explained the effect hearing loss can have on a person’s life.

“When a person starts to lose their hearing, they lose brain comprehension of speech,” she said, “It affects their lifestyle, it affects their communication, it affects family.

“They can’t communicate any longer. You get a lot of the ‘huhs’ and ‘whats’ and ‘can you repeat that’s’. And that’s okay short term, but as it becomes a long-term problem, it starts to have more of an effect.

“You have hearing loss which means that you’re not hearing sound. That’s really kind of the root of that. But by not hearing sound, it actually means that the phonetic information in speech is not going to the brain and when that happens, then a patient can’t put words together and when they can’t put words together, they can’t put conversations together.”

Shriver likened the inability to process sounds to trying to listening to a foreign language.

“If you think about it, I hear sound, but I don’t understand German. I don’t understand French. I understand English because English was repetitious to me as a child and that’s how I developed a language center in my brain. And so that repetition of sound has to continue.

“If you’re not hearing a sound, a phonetic combination long enough, your brain throws it out. It is constantly wanting to make room for more information. That’s what we call ‘brain hearing’ or comprehension.

Shriver said when she does a hearing test for the purpose of fitting a patient with hearing aids she can’t just look the hearing loss itself.

“You have to look at the brain hearing. You have to look at that what is your comprehension of speech in quiet. You have to look at what is your comprehension of speech in noise.”

“For so many years, you put a patient in hearing aids. OK, now I’ve solved your hearing problem, you’re hearing sound. And then they would come back and say, ’OK, I’m hearing sound better. Everything’s louder, but it’s still not clearer.’ And that’s because that’s the ‘brain hearing’ side of things.”

Shriver said as part of her practice she has incorporated oral rehabilitation.

“By doing oral rehabilitation, it allows the patient to go through some phonetic programs where they can work with their brain’s ability to process sounds. I used to always say for many, many years, that if I could put a patient in hearing aids and they could spend the first six months of their hearing aid life in Waffle House, they would become phenomenal with words.”

Shriver said the oral rehabilitation program she uses helps the patient helps the patient by using mind engaging games that work with the 800 most common phonetic combinations.

“So you’re tasking your brain to process those phonetic combinations faster. There are some memory parts to it where there is auditory recall that the patient has to bring into play so it incorporates that neurologic side into it as well.”

Shriver said a majority of the time a patient experiencing hearing loss related to age will have hearing loss for 10-12 years before they seek help.

“Lack of blood flow to the organ of hearing itself does cause it to kind of die off,” she said.

She said noise exposure also could play a role in hearing loss for the group coming into the hearing aid world now.

“There wasn’t a lot of knowledge about noise exposure during their generation. My generation knows about it. However, I won’t say that we’re going to fare much better.

“You have that noise produced component that may have started a little younger in their years back when they were hunting, back when they were target shooting or working in a factory or a mill or something of that nature maybe began the process . And then lo and behold, aging starts to come on and it just adds on to the equation.”

Shriver said medical conditions can also contribute to hearing loss.

“You have diabetes, you have thyroid issues, you have other metabolic related problems that just are like a 500-pound monkey on the back of hearing loss, where it’s just dragging it down and certainly  exasperating it.”

Tinnitus, or ring in the ears, can be a sign of high-frequency hearing loss, according to Shriver. She said the first step to treating to tinnitus is getting your hearing evaluated.

Shriver said Covington Hearing offers a range of hearing aid options, depending on a patient’s needs and lifestyle. She said it’s not always about getting the cheapest hearing aid.

“It can certainly be approached that way,” she said, “However, when you talk about channels of the hearing loss, you’re talking about frequency response, you’re talking about is the hearing loss flat, is it high-frequency, is it sloping, what areas are they missing? You need to be able to hit the areas where the patient needs the help.”

Shriver said being proactive is important when it comes to your hearing.

”Patients need to be proactive at getting that first audiogram when they enter that 60 to 65 range. Get a baseline done, know where you stand, get an idea where you are starting in the process,” she said, “I know a lot of people shy away from getting their hearing tested because the first thing they think about is, ‘I can’t afford it.’ 

“My thing is be proactive, get the information that you need. Find out what your hearing is looking like, meaning get that baseline. Have an idea of where you stand. Look at that brain hearing. As proactive as they can be, they often end up in less expensive hearing aids because their brain is capable of doing so much early on.” 

Shriver said, “I know the financial side does scare them, but there are always options out there. It’s just a matter of figuring what your baseline is and what options are available to you.”

For more information about hearing loss and Covington Hearing, visit their website at