Today we're sitting down at the Dock to talk to Samantha Sikorski, a Spooner businesswoman who is originally from Minong and now has an office in Spooner.
Samantha, from what we understand, you've come a long way in your profession. Why is hearing health such an important field to you?
I think it stems from my very early years. My brother was born unable to hear; though my mom expressed concerns, his physician figured I was mothering him and not allowing him the opportunity to speak for himself. It wasn’t until he was 3 – and my mom put up a serious fight – that his hearing was checked – he was considered deaf; while he was able to have his hearing surgically repaired, it took years of speech therapy because he lost those critical early years of development.
You always wanted to go into this field?
Oh, goodness, no. My grandfather had hearing aids and, let’s just say, my experience with people who had hearing aids was not very positive. I wish I knew then what I know now – I could have really helped my grandpa.
Long story short, in 2001, I was told I would need hearing aids; I was only 23. Here’s what no one tells you – loss of hearing is like any other loss. You need to go through the 7 stages of grief; most people get stuck in denial. I was determined that, if I was going to put a hearing aid in my ear, I needed to fix the problems with them first! So, I went to a manufacturer and started training to learn everything I could about how they worked.
Your practice is new to the Spooner area. What prompted you to open your practice here?
I opened just over 3 years ago. Spooner has so much to offer; it has an amazing business and healthcare community to start. But, for me, I love that someone can walk in my office and relax. I can take time to get to know them and their challenges.
Many people have hearing loss, but that doesn’t mean it impacts us all the same way. Some people with a mild loss will suffer profound consequences in a job where they work with numbers, while people with a moderate loss in I.T. may not even notice it. If I only look at their hearing loss, then I am not treating the entire impairment.
I’ve heard that hearing gets worse as you age. At what age does hearing loss begin?
Thank you for asking this question. When people ask me what I do for a living, they inevitably say “what” or “I’ll need to see you in about 20 years” as if there’s some magical “old” age where you go from hearing everything to asking everyone to repeat. The truth is that age-related hearing loss begins at age 10. Your largest change of hearing happens before you turn 40.
Most of the loss I am speaking of before 20 happens in frequencies that do not affect our ability to communicate so we don’t even notice it happening. And, if we are honest, nearly all of us have difficulty in groups, so when the loss encroaches on important tones, we think it is normal and dismiss it.
By that rule, then, shouldn’t we all be having our hearing tested?
YES! There is some weird unwritten rule that you should test your hearing when you have a problem but that is entirely backwards. Once you turn 40, you need to have a baseline hearing test.
If you don’t have a problem with your hearing, then why would you test it?
Because you cannot see sound. You cannot see inside your ears. There are over 200 medications that are toxic to the ears. Diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, psoriatic arthritis and so many other health problems are connected to our ears.
You mention other medical conditions. Is it true that dementia and heart disease are connected to hearing loss?
In different ways, yes. The cochlea (coke-lee-uh) is very sensitive to changes in blood flow. In several cases, we’ve been able to detect a cardiovascular event before a patient was aware.
Dementia is a far more complex but much more directly connected with the loss of hearing. In the early stages of hearing loss, our brain has to reorganize to make up for the slight strain required to pick up speech in challenging environments. Thanks to the research of Frank Lin, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, we now know that this reorganization causes a 40x faster decline in overall brain function. His research has proven that hearing loss leads to a 2x-5x greater risk in developing dementia.
The research is clear on the connection, but not so clear on exactly why hearing loss increases dementia risk. Some researchers believe it is because those with hearing loss become withdrawn or more socially isolated. Others point to the atrophy (brain shrinkage) that occurs from hearing loss.
Are you saying that getting a hearing aid can stop dementia?
No. We must first understand more about how they are connected. The process of hearing is incredibly complex. Hearing aids cannot fix a damaged ear any more than eyeglasses fix a visual impairment; but when the brain is healthy, it can make more sense of the sound in the auditory cortex. As I said earlier, people who wait until they experience problems to seek treatment have already lost their ability to interpret information in the brain due to atrophy, so those people can hear more with a hearing aid but they will not understand everything they hear.
Put in other words, you use-it-or-lose-it?
It sounds as though you do more than sell hearing aids. What other services do you offer?
That’s one way to put it. I help people maximize their hearing potential. If hearing aids are the best treatment option, we fit those; for others, we may recommend an implant option. I help people with tinnitus, cognitive decline, communication strategies and I even help install Tloops at churches.
How can people get in touch with you for further information or to make an appointment?