Do Not DIY
By ADVANCE for Speech & Hearing
Once upon a time, the term “Renaissance man” (or the more technical “polymath”) was popularly employed to characterize those who were gifted and constantly seeking to enhance their abilities in areas ranging from physical, social, intellectual and artistic accomplishment.
While the term — like the period for which it is named — connotes a certain level of prestige, it has largely fallen out of fashion in recent years, for reasons mainly having to do with its populist replacement(s): self-help, self-improvement and do-it-yourself (or DIY).
If there’s one curious shift in society over the past few decades, it’s been the move away from the “self-made man” and toward the self-made expert. The economy is improving — and some sectors are strong — but with education costs continually soaring and information as accessible as it’s ever been, our collective know-it-all itch is scratched thousands of times every single day by countless websites churning out “explainers” and lists designed to trick us into thinking they confer expertise.
In a way, this democratization can be viewed not as the triumph but the death of the Renaissance man ideal. What was once an insatiable desire to improve — albeit somewhat tainted with pomposity — has morphed into a hasty competition to call the game early (rank with even more pomposity). And what’s worse, the availability of free — and (often) not properly vetted or verified — information stokes an unhealthy inner cynicism in a way that invariably leads to poor decisions.
One such poor decision: DIY doctoring. Jaynee Handelsman, PhD, CCC-A, president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and director of pediatric audiology at the CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote an op-ed in U.S. News & World Report this week on this very topic, particularly pertaining to hearing care and senior citizens.
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In it, Handelsman writes, “According to the Hearing Health Foundation, the number of Americans with hearing loss — 50 million — has doubled in the past 15 years. One in five adults, one in five teens and three out of five veterans returning from war have hearing complications.”
She then referenced details of a 2011 ASHA survey on the hearing health of AARP’s members which found that almost half reported untreated hearing loss. “Many thought they were getting by. In doing so, however, they were putting themselves at risk for a lower quality of life potentially fraught with reduced social interaction, employment problems and additional medical complications. Studies have even linked hearing loss to dementia,” Handelsman said.
In sharing an anecdote about her 86-year-old father’s own resistance to proper hearing care — she’s a nationally recognized audiologist, remember — she noted that his own vulnerability to “ … the slick marketing of hearing aid technology as well as stories in the news media that encourage this do-it-yourself approach” led to his purchasing a personal sound amplifier that only exacerbated his frustrations; not only did his symptoms not improve, but he now was out a significant amount of money.
“Too many people are bypassing medical experts and shelling out dollars for devices that will eventually end up in the junk drawer, just like his,” she said.
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And she’s right. Although she leadoff and closed her article with the suggestion that DIY culture might be better suited to tinkering with your car than with the health of your body, the truth is that trying to bypass the cost and hassle of seeing an actual credentialed professional in any field usually just defers that process and heaps excess pain — financial and physical — on the original problem.
So, with a nod to the admirable quality of self-reliance, remember to be practical. Don’t let DIY cause you to send out an SOS.