HearLife of MN has been improving patients’ lives through better hearing for more than 10 years in the Alexandria area.

The Hearlife team includes Dr. Tara Brink, Andrea Speckmier, Stacy Wicklund and Angie Yanda. Each plays an important role in making the customer experience a succesful one.

HearLife of MN has a long list of happy patients over the last 10 years. Two of those patients are Dean Paulson, of Glenwood, and Fraye Ranstrom, of Alexandria. Both have seen their lives change for the better in 2017 thanks to better hearing. Here are their stories:

ndrea Speckmier examines Dean Paulson’s ear drum using a probe and monitor. Photo by Jim Palmer

“I was totally thrilled”

Dean Paulson started noticing his hearing loss about 14 years ago. He worked with noisy equipment for many years while farming and also enjoyed hunting, which he also believes contributed to the hearing loss. Paulson was tested twice and fitted with two different hearing aids after realizing there was problem. But it just wasn’t working like he thought it should. He continued to go back for adjustments, but the improvements were just minor.

Then he walked into HearLife of MN in Alexandria.

“Every time I went in to the old place it improved my hearing but never have I been as satisfied as I am here,” he said. “I guess you don’t know if it could be better until you have something better. The staff is very thorough so I had a complete understanding of everything. They were really concerned about my hearing and tried a number of different things to help. It is the best experience I have had visiting a hearing facility from the receptionist to the audiologist. Everyone has been just super. It is not hard for me to recommend to anyone to try this out.”

Paulson felt like he had much more control over his hearing at HearLife than he did at past hearing centers. “I had one audiologist who was determined to get a certain hearing aid in my ear, but that never worked well. Here, I had a choice to go to a number of manufacturers. I was so happy with how the way things were going, I told them I would go with the one that they recommended,” he said. “I was very familiar with some of the brands, but that isn’t necessarily what they recommended.”

The improved hearing has enhanced just about all aspects of Paulson’s life, including church and social outings.

“I would go to events, and it was overwhelming. Now, I can handle that and can still hear everything,” he said.  “I was totally thrilled. I have never been happier with my hearing.”

Paulson’s experience at HearLife was also enhanced by something unexpected. Actually someone unexpected.

“I just have to share this,” he said. “Andrea has a young daughter. On my second visit, she was at the office and was busy making a birthday card for Dr. Brink. She was very friendly and polite.  I said, ‘Gee, If I would have known it was her birthday, I would have brought her a birthday card.’ She disappeared and came back with a handful of magic markers and blank piece of paper… so I made a birthday card.”

Big improvement

Fraye Ranstrom is a retired electrician who worked regularly in loud control rooms with high-pitch noises. His hearing loss became very noticeable about 10 years ago, especially by his wife, Jean.

“His hearing was a constant issue,” she said. “He had hearing aids, but they were uncomfortable, and he would go to the (former hearing center) many times a month to adjust them, but he was basically hearing nothing. It didn’t matter if the hearing aids were in or not. I would yell, and he wouldn’t hear anything. I would have to be right in front of him for him to hear me.”

The Ranstroms got a card in the mail from HearLife of MN and decided to check it out.

“I was impressed on the test they gave me. Dr. Brink said that my hearing aids were good… but they only took care of this much of my hearing,” he said holding his hands about a foot apart. “She said now, with my new hearing aids, my range will be like this…” he said extending his arms out about 3 feet.

Once Fraye was fitted with new hearing aids, there were some noticeable differences at home.

“One of the biggest changes was I had to turn the TV set up so she could hear,” he said.

Jean said, “Before, I would be sitting in my chair, and the sound was too high, and he would be saying, ‘What did they say?’ Now it is the opposite. We actually needed to adjust how we communicate because of his improved hearing.”

Dr. Tara Brink, audologist, shows some of the hearing aid options to Fraye and Jean Ranstrom. Photo by Jim Palmer

Today, Fraye enjoys church services more, enjoys social gathering more and just about every interaction is better than it used to be. He also notices a difference when he works in his shop.

“I make picture frames, and the first time I went out to the shop I thought, ‘Wow, are the machines always that noisy?’” said Fraye.

Patient-centered care

HearLife of MN takes a “patient-centered” approach to diagnosing and treating hearing loss, and it starts with a conversation.

“Our first appointment is free,” said Speckmier. “This includes our four-step process: an interview, exam of the ears, comprehensive hearing test and demos.”

The staff recommends you bring a companion to the first free appointment; the person you communicate with most frequently to help develop your treatment plan.

“In the interview, we get a medical history on our patients, but we are looking for information on their lifestyles.  The lifestyle aspect of it is most important,” said Dr. Brink. “If you could pick your top three areas where you are really looking to see some improvements, where would that be? How do you do with the TV or phone? How do you do at church? How often are you in those environments? How important are those things to you?”

“After the interview, we do an examination of the ears and the comprehensive hearing test,” said Speckmier.

One of the tests they do is for background noise, called a QuickSIN test. The information from these tests, along with the information received in the interview, will help the hearing care provider determine which hearing aid will be best for the patient.  If a patient has a hearing loss, demos are placed on the patient so they can experience with their companion the sounds they have been missing.

“We will recommend what we think will work best. We work with all brands, multiple styles and all budgets,” said Speckmier.

Ultimately, it is their choice,” said Speckmier.

After a hearing aid is selected and fitted, the patients are given a treatment plan to help them adjust to the new sounds.

“It is not like glasses where you put them on and it is fixed.” said Brink. “There is an adaptation period to it. The longer the hearing loss, the longer it takes to adapt.”

A typical patient will come in a few times after the original fitting to fine tune the settings. These adjustments are all complimentary. “Our services last for the life of the hearing aid,” said Speckmier.

“Hearing loss is gradual,” said Brink. “It can happen over a long period of time. Most people don’t realize how much of a hearing loss they have.”

Hearing loss factors are usually genetics and noise exposure, said Brink, and not necessarily age related. “There are a multitude of factors that affect your hearing.”

Well-documented studies have shown that hearing loss can also affect more than your hearing. It can lead to cognitive dysfunction.

“When you have areas of the auditory nerve that aren’t being stimulated, that nerve starts to deteriorate over time,” said Brink.

Brink said the reduced cognition and focus appear to be a result of the brain working harder in some areas to compensate for the hearing loss.  Technology has improved tremendously in the hearing aid world, and HearLife of MN has all the options.

Hearlife of Minnesota’s Alexandria office includes (L to R) Dr. Tara Brink, Stacy Wicklund, Angie Yanda and Andrea Speckmier. Photo by Jim Palmer

“We have daily wear, extended wear and rechargeable hearing aids.  Some hearing aids are Bluetooth capable” said Speckmier. Your hearing aid can connect to your cell phone. You can take a phone call right into your hearing aid.”

Hearing aids can also be customized to make life easier for those who wear them. For instance, “Geo-tagging will allow the hearing aids to automatically adjust the settings when you walk into different locations.” said Speckmier.

All hearing aids at HearLife of MN come with a warranty and batteries, and all hearing aids can be financed through CareCredit for one year, no interest.

“We accept most insurance plans and always do courtesy insurance checks to determine if their plan offers hearing aid benefits.” said Brink.

HearLife of MN is open Monday-Friday by appointment plus they offer walk-in hours weekdays from 1-2 p.m. (no appointment necessary).

“We are always here to help,” said Brink.

Other services provided by HearLife include industrial testing for OSHA, home visits, and free educational visits to nursing homes. They also offer custom hearing protection devices, which are popular with hunters and those who work around loud machines.

According to Brink and Speckmier, it takes about seven years before someone with a hearing loss will start to look for help with their hearing. HearLife of MN encourages those with and without hearing loss to consider getting a test done.

HearLife of MN is located at 606 3rd Ave. West in Alexandria (next to Jan’s Place). To make an appointment call 320-759-1764. To learn more about HearLife of MN, visit www.HearLifeMN.com.