Age-Related Hearing Loss Is Often Untreated

Age-Related Hearing Loss Is Often Untreated

Age-related hearing loss is one of the most common medical conditions we face as we age. While one-third of those aged 60–69 have hearing loss, two-thirds of those 70 and up have it. Nearly everyone who reaches age 100 has hearing loss, suggesting we’ll all experience it eventually if we only live long enough!

Hearing aids remain the best and most common treatment for hearing loss, and they are better than ever. Still, only about 1 out of 5 people who need hearing aids are currently wearing them—a statistic that hasn’t changed in 40 years. And, on average, it takes a person seven years from the time they notice a hearing loss to the time they make an appointment for a hearing test and get a set of hearing aids.

Why Treat Hearing Loss?

People often avoid treating hearing loss because they think it will be expensive and adjusting to hearing aids does take some time. Some people are worried that hearing aids will make them feel “old.” Still, others may plan to treat their hearing loss once it becomes “really bad.”

While we understand that change can be difficult, the reality is that it is important to start treating hearing loss from the moment it becomes an issue. Avoiding or delaying treatment creates problems in both our lifestyle and our health. It seems like every month there’s a new study published about the effects that untreated hearing loss can have on some aspects of our health and well-being.

Untreated hearing loss has been linked to depression, loneliness, social isolation, decreased physical activity, paranoia, increased risk of accidental injury, increased risk of hospital readmission, memory issues, and earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia. There are no apparent health benefits to letting hearing loss go untreated.

Even mild hearing loss is associated with increased fatigue, less physical activity, and memory issues. Our brains start to work differently at the beginning stages of hearing loss, and if we do not start treating our hearing loss with hearing aids, these changes in our brain can progress and cause more problems.

On the other hand, 95% of those who get hearing aids say they’re glad they did when asked after one year. Hearing aid wearers tend to be more optimistic, physically active, and socially connected than those with untreated hearing loss. While more studies need to be completed on the subject, it does appear that hearing aids can help prevent cognitive decline and dementia, and even reverse mild cognitive impairment.

What Are the Signs of Hearing Loss?

Typically, we find out we might have hearing loss when someone else tells us we do. Maybe they can hear a sound clearly that we haven’t noticed, or they’re surprised we haven’t heard what they said. Maybe the volume of the television is a clue: a volume setting that allows us to hear is uncomfortably loud for them. However it may happen, it is usually someone else who points out our hearing loss.

The best way to find out whether you have hearing loss is to have your hearing tested at regular intervals. The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit organization, recommends getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years thereafter. Those with a higher risk of hearing loss should be tested even more frequently. Regular hearing tests give us an objective baseline of our hearing ability and can show us how it changes over time.

Hearing loss that progresses faster than usual can be an indication of an underlying cardiovascular condition. Before such a condition becomes acute, your hearing care professional may be able to diagnose it and refer you to a doctor based on the results of your regular hearing tests. But this only works if you get your hearing tested regularly!

Hearing Aids Are Better Than Ever

In the past few years, hearing aids have made leaps and bounds. Many models are now offered in a rechargeable option, using lithium-ion batteries. They can separate background sound from speech, which can increase speech intelligibility to better than normal in some cases. They connect wirelessly to smartphones and other devices we use regularly via Bluetooth.

It is worth talking to a hearing care professional about the options available and the importance of treating hearing loss sooner than later. Make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to improve your life!

Kenneth H. Wood, BC-HIS
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