Dr. Meg Hebb became the primary audiologist at Connect Hearing, 7249 Madison St., on March 8. | Photo provided

“Hearing aids are my passion,” said Dr. Meg Hebb, “because they are the meaningful difference maker for most people with hearing loss, the game changer in their day-to-day life.”

Hebb, who will be the new audiologist at Connect Hearing, 7249 Madison St., beginning March 8, always wanted to go into healthcare, but not specifically the life-or-death aspect of medicine.

“I was more interested in improving quality of life,” Hebb said. “I think that’s something really unique about audiology, in that we’re not there to extend life, we’re there to make life worth living, to help maintain social connections, and to keep your brain aging younger, giving you all the sensory input that you need.”

She was also influenced to choose this career path because her younger sister had hearing loss, and Hebb watched her grow up seeing an audiologist and a speech and language pathologist. Initially, Hebb said that fueled an interest in speech and language pathology, but the more classes she took, the more she realized it was the technology, specifically hearing aids, that interested her the most.

Equally as compelling to her, though, is the focus on relationships in audiology. She enjoys the connections she develops with patients, but she also deeply values the relationships her patients have with people in their lives and the world around them.

The connection between cognition, including dementia, is a big focus for Hebb, who said that while hearing aids certainly won’t prevent dementia, they can significantly aid in a person’s ability to interact with the world. They also allow the brain to focus on things other than filling in gaps like it does in the early stages of hearing loss, supplying bits and pieces of information your ears aren’t hearing.

That the brain can do that is great, Hebb said.

“But after many years of having to spend all this extra cognitive energy on hearing, you’re pulling a cognitive resource away from things like working memory and problem solving,” said Hebb. “So we want to make listening effortless, because that can all contribute to cognitive decline and dementia.”

Additionally, hearing loss affects cognition because it can cause a lack of interaction, oftentimes in situations that are socially integral in someone’s life, like family gatherings or meals in a retirement home.

“If you get into that situation, and you can’t hear or understand, you start to withdraw. It’s much easier to just take a backseat to the conversation than it is to continue to push forward,” Hebb said. “And when we see that withdrawal, we see higher instances of depression and isolation in seniors, which is also linked to dementia and cognitive decline. The more we are engaged in the world around us and the more stimulation our brain has on a regular basis, the better it’s going to age.”

Addressing hearing loss as early as possible is important, said Hebb, because it’s easier to adapt to hearing aids when you’re younger.

But one of the reasons people don’t seek help right away for hearing loss is because it generally isn’t something that happens overnight.

“Hearing loss is tricky, because for most people, it isn’t a big sudden drop, it’s gradually over time you start to experience it,” Hebb said. “Before it becomes really a huge problem and a barrier for communication, it still may be there and manifesting in ways that you don’t necessarily think of right away.”

Connect Hearing works primarily with adults, said Hebb, and typically their patients are in the 65+ age group. But younger adults can experience hearing loss too.

“Hearing loss can have a lot of different causes,” said Hebb. “A big concern these days is headphones causing noise induced hearing loss. So sometimes we’ll have patients who, you know, maybe they’re a musician, and they haven’t been using appropriate hearing protection.”

Some problems are simple, like a build-up of ear wax causing hearing difficulties. Or maybe problems in hearing can be related to a virus. In cases such as those, hearing is often restored. But when it’s not, there are options. Regardless, said Hebb, it’s a good practice to visit an audiologist in your 40s, just to get a baseline to compare future exams to. And at Connect Hearing, first time evaluations are completely complimentary, said Hebb, and for people who have no issues, the clinic will give them tips on how to preserve and protect their hearing.

Hebb, who holds a clinical doctorate, said she’s looking forward to joining the Forest Park community at Connect. She completed four years of undergraduate school and then a doctorate program at Rush, which included clinical rotations. She did her clinical residency at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.