The estimates for people who are hard of hearing and/or deaf across America vary from 22 million to 36 million. The figures are based on statistics from The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which is under the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the U.S. Census Bureau. There is no statistic showing the cause for hearing loss amongst these groups, but based on other western counties, age related hearing loss, as well as noise induced hearing loss are likely to be the two main reasons.
What Is Age Related Hearing Loss
Most adults will experience some degree of deterioration in hearing as they age – hence the term age-related hearing loss. The extent of the loss will differ from one person to the next.
It is a natural process that can start as early as age 40, but the vast majority of those found to have age related hearing loss are over the age of 65. Our ability to hear sound is dependent in part by tiny hair-like structures that are found within the cochlea of the inner ear. These hair-cells carry information from the incoming sound waves to the nerves responsible for hearing. As we age and often over many years, these tiny hairs die or are damaged, and the direct result is hearing loss. Both ears are usually affected in a similar way.
Symptoms Of Age Related Hearing Loss
The severity of hearing loss varies across individuals as it also depends on many other factors such as exposure to loud sound during our lifetime. While hearing loss is not life threatening, it can reduce one’s quality of life. It may lead to social exclusion, depression, anxiety and other associated psychological issues. Interaction with others often becomes difficult, and may be tempting to avoid.
Common telltale signs include:
- Struggling to hear within background noise
- Having to have words or sentences repeated
- Having the TV turned up more than others in the same room
- Mens’ voices are easier to hear than womens’ voices
- Feeling exhausted after having conversations
- Inability to hear, or confusion over high-pitched speech sounds such as “s” and “th”
The Danger Of Unmanaged Hearing Loss
In the past it was usually assumed that not doing anything about a hearing loss unmanaged would have a negative impact on quality of life in terms of some social interactions and listening to music and television but that there wouldn’t be anything else more complicated to consider. We now know however, thanks to research by Johns Hopkins and Harvard, that unmanaged hearing loss can have far reaching effects on an individual’s mental health.
It is the relationship between reduced auditory stimuli and patterns of reclusiveness that is causing concern. The Johns Hopkins University study determined that socially isolated individuals are more likely to develop dementia. Out of 639 participants, researchers found that those with hearing loss at the beginning of the study were significantly more likely to develop dementia by the end. The risk of developing dementia over time was believed to increase by as much as fivefold. Lack of cognitive stimuli alongside social withdrawal due to difficulty hearing, were posited as defining characteristics in this profile. Whilst hearing loss may not be the cause of dementia there are certainly signs that, untreated, it can accelerate the rate of progression.
Before considering options it is important to get a diagnosis as to the cause of hearing loss and have a hearing test to evaluate the extent of any hearing loss.
First consult with your family doctor or book a hearing test at your local hearing center.
Age related hearing loss is an irreversible condition and no cure currently exists. The effects of hearing loss can however be managed through the use of modern technology – most commonly in the form of hearing aids. These aids aim to amplify external sounds, and deliver more sound where needed to the inner ear. Hearing aids vary in their design, they are either worn behind the ear or inside the ear. Additional aids such as extra loud phones and cell phones, loop systems, TV listeners and other alerting devices are also available to match individual needs. Check with your physician for a referral to a local audiologist, who can check what is the best device for you.
Bio: Information by Joan McKechnie, BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan works for Hearing Direct a company that offers assistive listening devices.