Acknowledging the Reality of Hearing Loss

Acknowledging the Reality of Hearing Loss

In Hearing Loss by Dr. Jason Leyendecker

Dr. Jason Leyendecker
Latest posts by Dr. Jason Leyendecker (see all)

About 48 million Americans today suffer from hearing loss. While some hearing loss is the result of exposure to noise or other factors, the most common cause of hearing loss is aging. In fact, nearly 100% of centenarians have hearing loss; it seems that if we live long enough, everyone will encounter hearing loss at some point.

Hearing Loss is Not Just Annoying

Age-related hearing loss was once thought to be an annoying but benign problem, but research in recent decades has shown that it leads to earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia; dramatically increases the likelihood of loneliness, depression and social isolation; decreases earning potential for those who are in the workforce; and can be an early indicator of heart disease.

Unfortunately, only about one out of ten people who could benefit from hearing aids actually wears them, and, on average, it takes seven years from the time when a person notices hearing loss to the time they seek treatment for it. Perhaps part of the reason that people put off treating their hearing loss is the belief that it has to reach a certain level of nuisance before they put in the time and expense of treatment, but this is ill-advised.

Regular Hearing Tests Help Prevent More than Untreated Hearing Loss

The problem is that it can be difficult to know when your hearing loss crosses the line into being a health risk, or a warning sign of underlying health risks. But consider the following: The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit organization, recommends that every person get a hearing test once per decade until age 50, and once every three years after that.

A recent study conducted by Brigham & Women’s Hospital determined that those following an anti-inflammatory diet such as the Alternate Mediterranean diet (AMED) or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) were at a significantly reduced risk of developing hearing loss. This of course means that if we’re interested in preserving our hearing, we should adopt the same healthy eating practices that are recommended for general physical health. (And quit smoking.)

But the study also found that a good deal of hearing loss occurred in white women around age 60, a time of life when people aren’t often thinking about their hearing yet. In determining at this time that some people might be losing hearing loss more quickly than others (even though none of these people’s hearing ability might show concerning levels of loss), it’s possible to adopt the necessary lifestyle changes to preserve the hearing they have, and also to determine risk factors for future cardiovascular problems.

You see, age-related hearing loss that progresses at a faster-than-normal rate can be an early indicator of heart disease. Unfortunately, most people don’t get hearing tests at regular intervals that would indicate whether their hearing loss is progressing faster than normal. In fact, if you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re overdue for a hearing test- almost everyone is.

Sitting down for a hearing test not only allows us to keep track of our hearing ability as we age, but also gives us access to a medical opinion about our hearing loss. Audiologists are trusted doctors who can advise us whether we need hearing aids or not.

From Fatigue to Atrophy

Some people may not be aware how exhausting hearing loss can be. Because age-related hearing loss happens as we get older, many people mistake the fatigue they experience from hearing loss as being a separate age-related issue. In fact, a set of hearing aids can restore hearing ability to near-normal, which requires a lot less work from the brain to simply figure out what is being said.

The mental fatigue caused by hearing loss results from overstressing the frontal cortex in the brain by requiring a job from it that would normally be done by the auditory cortex: deciphering speech. As the auditory cortex receives less information from the ears, it begins to atrophy. The more it atrophies, the more we actually lose the ability to comprehend speech even when our hearing is restored. While audiologists offer training courses to relearn speech comprehension, why wait this long to start treating hearing loss with hearing aids?

Hearing Aids Are an Excellent Treatment

And hearing aids today have come a long way. Many of us have the impression that hearing aids will make our experience of sound somehow worse, or that they will indicate that we are old. Some people believe they are “more trouble than they’re worth.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, people who get hearing aids report satisfaction with them at a rate of over 91% after one year.

The hearing aids of today are fitted (programmed) to match your hearing loss profile, frequency by frequency, so that your experience of sound is restored to near-normal. They can help alleviate tinnitus, reduce background noise, and integrate with phones and other devices to make hearing easier everywhere you need to do it. Schedule a hearing test today and find out if hearing aids are right for you. While the options are many, our team will help you find the right pair so you can live life to the fullest.