Company treats hearing loss in new facility at the Northbridge Mall

Published 9:31 am Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Hearing Associates looks forward to continued growth in Albert Lea

By Kelly Wassenberg

A student sits in a chair and follows an examiner’s instructions. 

“When you hear a beep in your right ear, I want you to raise your right hand. If you hear the beep in your left ear, raise your left hand.”

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Many are familiar with this basic hearing screening often done in school, yet many adults haven’t bothered to have their hearing checked since then. And that can be a problem.

According to Hearing Associates Director of Operations Alex Crippin, having a baseline hearing test to compare future hearing tests to is a valuable tool for an audiologist. This is especially true because many compensate for their hearing loss without even realizing it. He said for many, the realization of how significant their hearing loss was came with COVID. The necessity of wearing masks took away two tools those with hearing loss utilize — the ability to read lips and see facial expressions. 

Moving from their previous location to the John & Susan Morrison Healthcare Plaza during the pandemic may have brought with it a few challenges. 

“All of our deadlines got pushed back,” Crippin said. “The first two weeks of operation, we were using folding chairs because our patient chairs hadn’t arrived yet.”

The positives have far outweighed the negatives, though. 

Hearing Associates typically rents or leases locations they use to see patients in the communities they serve. Audiologists would bring in their gear, set everything up and take it with them at the end of the day. 

“This space is ours,” Crippin said. “So our name is on the door and we’re always there.” Another benefit to their new location was the ability to design their own space to be exactly how they wanted it.

With patients ranging in age from pediatrics to geriatrics, the main level space makes it easily accessible for those who may come in a stroller or have mobility issues. There is also a door that connects Hearing Associates directly to Mercy One. While the two businesses are completely independent from one another, they have a symbiotic relationship which predates Mercy One’s presence in Albert Lea. 

Audiologist Christine Heintskill works in Albert Lea as well as Charles City and Mason City, where Mercy One also has a clinic. 

She said the organizations continue to work together to serve the needs of their patients. If someone is seen at Hearing Associates at either location, and needs to be referred to an eyes, ears and throat specialist, Mercy One can typically get them in to be seen that day. Mercy One refers patients to them, as well. 

This is important because as Crippin explained, hearing loss can sometimes be a symptom of a larger problem, especially if it comes on suddenly or is unilateral.

While there are congenital and genetic reasons for hearing loss, the group is also seeing an uptick of younger patients in part to today’s technology. A decade ago, over-the-ear headphones were commonplace. Now, earbuds are gaining in popularity. While either device can cause damage to the ear at higher volumes, earbuds create additional problems as they direct sound further into the ear canal. 

Regardless of age, there are a few symptoms that are indicative of hearing loss. Do people sound like they are mumbling? Is it harder to hear women’s and children’s voices that seem to be higher pitched than men’s? Is it more difficult to understand what someone is saying if they’re not facing you? Do you depend on syntax, or context clues, to fill in gaps of spoken word?

If so, you may want to consider following up with a provider. Beyond the annoyance of having to ask someone to repeat themselves, hearing loss has been proven to speed the natural progression of cognitive decline and dementia as people age and affects a person’s quality of life.

Not to mention, advancements in technology have not only improved the look and functionality of hearing aids, but have been able to add perks many wouldn’t have thought possible.

As an independent provider, Hearing Associates works with six different providers of hearing aids so they can focus on the patient’s type and degree of hearing loss, communication needs and their budgets. Even budget-friendly options allow you to stream phone calls through them, and once connected to a phone, many can take advantage of the other apps on the customer’s phone. 

Drop technology can send an alert to the patient’s phone if they detect an abrupt shift. The alert can be dismissed if the individual simply dropped their hearing aid on the floor. Otherwise, the device can contact a preset emergency contact to notify them the customer has possibly fallen. That technology can give someone the ability to program their smart coffeemaker to start and to turn on a hallway light once the hearing aids are removed from their charging stations since it would indicate the person is awake. Some even have fitness trackers in them. 

While hearing loss is the number one reason most see an audiologist, Hearing Associates can also arrange tests for vertigo, as the bones in the ear affect balance; can counsel those who may have more of a communication issue than a hearing problem; and can help with the treatment of tinnitus, or an unexplained ringing or chirping in the ear. 

As Crippin looks forward to the company’s continued growth in Albert Lea, he also reminds the public that hearing is one of your most important senses — so it’s just being wise to check your hearing, just like you would your teeth and eyes.