Acknowledging the Reality of Hearing Loss

Acknowledging the Reality of Hearing Loss

For millennia, hearing loss has been a problem that has affected people of all ages, but especially those above the age of 60. About a third of people aged 60–69 have hearing loss, and for those aged 70 and up, the incidence climbs to two-thirds. Nearly 100% of centenarians have it, suggesting we’ll all experience hearing loss eventually if we only live long enough.

Untreated Hearing Loss Is Not Benign

For most of history, hearing loss has been understood as an annoying but relatively benign part of aging. This made sense, especially when there wasn’t much we could do about it. Modern medicine, however, has uncovered a host of effects that hearing loss can have, ranging from an increased risk of accidental injury to depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently named untreated hearing loss the #1 modifiable risk factor (out of twelve) in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Treatment Is Very Effective

While the effects of untreated hearing loss can be devastating, today we are fortunate to have the best hearing loss treatment solutions the world has ever seen! Hearing aids have made great strides in the past two decades, and they are now incredibly sophisticated devices, housing tiny computers that do amazing things to help reduce background noise, enhance speech, increase directionality of sound, and even connect wirelessly to smartphones and other devices to stream phone calls, video conferences, and media content directly to our ears.

But as in all areas of life, the first step to addressing the problem of hearing loss is admitting that it exists. Many of us are hesitant to accept that our hearing requires amplification, and this is all too easy to do.

Signs That Hearing Loss May Be at Play

Part of the reason for this is that we can’t hear what we can’t hear. Unlike with near- or far-sightedness, our hearing doesn’t become “blurry.” Hearing loss needs to become pretty advanced before we might notice it ourselves, even though other people may be pointing out how much we’re not hearing. We may think people are mumbling or speaking too quietly. We may not be noticing the fridge buzzing anymore, or the birds chirping.

Most of the time, we think we can get along “just fine.” It may be the case that in a quiet room, we can carry on a conversation if the other person speaks a little louder and slower, though they may find that this is difficult for them to do. Perhaps our hearing loss only causes problems for us when we go out to a restaurant or bar, or when the whole extended family gets together and everyone’s talking at once. While those with normal hearing can have more difficulty hearing when background noise is present, even mild hearing loss can make it downright impossible to enjoy challenging listening situations.

Have you noticed yourself becoming tired earlier when you meet up with friends or family? This can be one of the first signs of hearing loss. The extra effort that it takes to try to listen to people when we can’t hear them clearly is exhausting. We become fatigued sooner in all kinds of social situations. We might think this is a separate issue related to aging— “I just can’t stay out as late as I used to.” In fact, you might be able to spend just as much time awake as you are accustomed to, and a good set of hearing aids may allow you to enjoy time with your loved ones as much as ever!

Those with even mild hearing loss also tend to report having more memory issues than those with normal hearing. This is likely because the process of hearing consumes more of our brains than normal, as we have to search for context clues and other non-auditory means of figuring out what someone is saying to us. This might not only make it harder to remember things we hear, but the extra tax on our brain’s energy can even make it more difficult to remember what we read.

Hearing Aids Help Us Get Our Lives Back

The good news is that none of these issues have to be permanent or get worse. A good set of hearing aids can make sound intelligible again, and help you navigate the world as easily as you once did. When asked after one year of wearing them, 95% of people say they’re glad they got hearing aids. Those who wear hearing aids tend to feel more optimistic, confident, and independent than those with untreated hearing loss. That’s what hearing aids are really about: having the faculties to confidently explore the world and enjoy our lives.

If you think you might have hearing loss, you don’t have to wonder! Make an appointment for a hearing test today and take charge of your hearing health!

Kenneth H. Wood, BC-HIS

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