Research tells us that when we reach about 35–40 years old our hearing begins to lose that lovely acuity we’ve all come to depend on. Subtle at first, it slowly marches on into our middle age and then gets a bit worse with each passing decade. Take a look at former President Bill Clinton and you will notice he’s been wearing double hearing aids since 1997. Yes, even Presidents lose their hearing.

As the Los Angeles Times article indicates:

“About 5% of Americans the president’s age experience similar hearing problems, according to Dr. Akira Ishiyama, assistant professor of otology at UCLA.

“And news of Clinton’s hearing loss, according to experts on baby boomer trends, is

Image for post
Image for post

Pres. Bil Clinton

certain to accelerate a growing awareness of the problem in this generation. Like Clinton, the leading edge of the boomer generation is reaching an age when hearing loss is first likely to become evident.

“Workplaces, once the leading culprit of hearing loss, have become safer because of regulatory efforts. But many members of the estimated 77 million in the “Woodstock generation” are also finding that they are feeling the effects of having listened to and played rock ’n’ roll at ear-splitting volumes.”

While workplace environments have become safer in terms of hearing loss and whether involvement in listening to loud music or band practice is a culprit, the fact is that a significant number of adults have hearing loss.

Question: How’s your physician’s hearing? Why do I ask? Hearing in medicine has been one of the hallmark tools for diagnosing a variety of medical illnesses. Just a quick few illustrations can bring new clarity to this issue and how it affects your

Image for post
Image for post

carotid exam

physical health exams. What does your doc use to check your heart, blood pressure, lungs, carotids and even your stomach (palpation here)? Is it the same old stethoscope that depends on hearing acuity to make a determination on whether or not that first beat (in the blood pressure domain) is detected? Or has your doc switched over to the electronic monitoring device? Take a look next time after they apply the BP cuff on your arm and see if it’s hooked up to an electronic monitor or someone is listening to your arm for that first beat.

But what about listening for rails in your chest, subtle heart murmurs, or small bruits in the carotids? And that liver or stomach palpation, doesn’t it depend on what sound the doc hears? They all are highly involved in hearing acuity and that, my friends, is where the danger lies.

Medicine, as practiced in many offices large and small, is still highly dependent on old technology, the stethoscope, that has been around since 1816 and has undergone few design changes since then. The major change came in 1967

Image for post
Image for post

when Dr. David Littmann made an important design change to it. How has it changed since then? Do stethoscopes have what upscale cameras employ (diopter for vision adjustment) to adjust for hearing loss? Should docs even be using stethoscopes at all and did you know that, originally, Littmann designed one scope for docs and one for nurses. Why? I don’t know.

When you doc has a physical exam, do you suppose that includes a hearing exam or is it just the usual physical you get? I’ll bet it’s limited to physical examination and does not include a hearing evaluation. If it did, how many docs would need hearing aids and how would they work with that trusty old stethoscope?

If the medical professional insists on keeping their stethoscopes (and they are worn like a badge around the shoulders now), how have the scopes been re-

Image for post
Image for post

engineered to reflect hearing acuity? I haven’t seen any, but I haven’t done any research into that area. Perhaps you might find this helpful or interesting for an article or even a piece of research. Heaven knows, we need research on just how docs do their work in their offices. Nurses did away with those awful, demeaning caps and now it may be time for the old-fashioned scopes to go the same way. Did physicians ever wear caps to indicate where they went to medical school? No.

Hearing loss is a fact of life for you, me and all physicians. Are they willing to admit their own hearing loss? Good question. Does the American Medical Association “recommend” hearing exams for physicians? Check and see.

Written by

Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, WebMD consultant, SAG/AFTRA member, author, interested in film, writing & health. Website:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store