Sound is so deeply segregated into our lives it’s hard not to take it for granted year after year. Still, around 20 percent of Americans will lose their ability to hear at some point in their lives. By 65 years of age, one in three of them suffers from some level of hearing loss, according to the Hearing Loss Association of American.
You may think that hearing loss is just a part of the aging process, but there is more to know than that. What you do before you grow older to protect your ears can slow the process and maybe prevent it entirely. The main factor is education. The more you understand about hearing loss, the better. Let’s discuss few facts about hearing loss that you need to understand before it’s too late.
There are 3 Different Types of Hearing Loss
Learning about the various types of hearing loss can help you find solutions if it doesn happen. There are three to consider:
- Conductive –What you might link to aging. This form of hearing loss means there is a change in the mechanisms of hearing, so sound waves can’t reach the inner ear. What’s important to remember about conductive hearing loss is it might be reversible. Something is simple as a buildup of ear wax can cause it.
- Sensorineural –Damage from an accident or a disease to the ear prevents the nerves from translating sound to the brain. The sensorineural hearing loss not fixable.
- Mixed –This means you have both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
Once you understand why hearing changed, you can figure out ways to enhance your quality of life with things like hearing aids.
Aging Isn’t the Only Culprit
Advanced age does put a person at risk for conductive hearing loss, but it’s not the only factor. The ears are very delicate, so environmental stressors take their toll, as well. This may be part of the reason why elderly folks tend to lose some of their hearing. By paying focusing now to the things that will cost you later, you can keep your ears safe. Other dangerous scenarios to consider include:
Loud noise – Studies indicate that at least 48 percent of plumbing professionals suffer hearing loss. Why – because they are exposed frequently to loud noises on the job. Even small things like listening to music with the volume up, spending evenings watching your favorite local band perform or riding in the car with the windows down can be a problem. Loud sounds create potentially dangerous waves that will eventually damage the sensitive elements that allow you to hear.
Medication – Some forms of medication are ototoxic, meaning they cause damage to the inner ear. There are currently around 200 different medications capable of triggering hearing or balance problems including over the counter aspirin.
Trauma or Illness – An injury to the ears or certain illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic ear infections
Hearing Loss is Usually Progressive
It’s best to be proactive because hearing loss begins slowly and increases over time. Symptoms to watch for include:
- Mumbling when people talk
- Complaints of people needing to repeat themselves
- You need the volume up high on the TV
- Certain sounds become difficult to understand, specifically words with the letter S or F and high pitched voices
- You have trouble following conversations
- You respond inappropriately to questions
If you feel like you are having difficulties in any of these areas, schedule a hearing test. The earlier your hearing loss is diagnosed, the better the prognosis in most cases. Prompt medical care for your hearing defect will increase your chance of recovery.
The good news is there is life after hearing loss if it does happen to you. There are personal listening devices like hearing aids that help your tune out background noise and enhance dialect, for example. The more you understand about your hearing loss, the better able you are to find ways to manage it.
Do you think that a hearing test is only required if there is a problem with your ears? Like when your spouse complains that you turn the volume up the TV too high or voices seem so mumbled lately. Those are both good reasons to schedule an appointment with a hearing professional. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that around 15 percent of the adults have some hearing loss, many of them seniors. If you have symptoms then it is likely that there is some hearing loss and getting the test done will help you find a solution. What you might not realize, though, is getting screened hearing loss is a lifesaver because that change in your hearing might indicate something much bigger is affecting your health. Consider four ways getting a hearing test could save your life.
The Association Between Hearing Loss and Dementia
This is a clear link between these two conditions that scientists have made just recently. It’s a real breakthrough for millions of individuals around the world. The World Health Association (WHO) estimates that by 2050, there may be over 100 million individuals globally suffering from some form of dementia. At the root of this increase is the age-related hearing loss. Research offered by scientists at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions discovered that people with mild hearing loss, around a 25 decimal decline, increase their risk of developing Alzheimer’s. For every 10 decibels that your hearing drops, the risk increases by 20 percent. The reasoning is complex, but, essentially, the struggle to hear constantly takes a toll on the brain. A hearing test can predict your risk level and help create a solution like a hearing aid to reduce the stress and lower your risk.
How About Hearing Loss and Cardiovascular Disease
Getting a much-needed hearing exam might also save you from a heart attack or even death. Hearing loss may be a symptom of cardiovascular disease. The inner ear has a very intricate and sensitive network of blood vessels. Even the tiniest change in blood flow, like a poorly functioning major artery, can show up first as hearing loss. If the hearing test indicates a slight decrease, but there doesn’t appear to be any problem with the mechanisms of your ears, the next place to look at blood flow.
Skin Cancer Found During a Hearing Test
A hearing test is an evaluation that goes beyond just the audiometer screening, too. A medical professional will do a physical exam of your ears, too. This location is a difficult to see and where a suspect mole can be easily missed. During the exam of your ears, the physician will look at the skin for signs of lesions or potential cancer growth.
The Hearing Loss You Don’t Deal With May lead to Depression
The old proverb that says you don’t miss something until it’s gone is very true when it comes to hearing. Even minor hearing loss can bring with it stress and depression. You may not know why you’re struggling to keep up or perhaps you think bad hearing is just part of getting older. You may be afraid of what a hearing test will tell you, too. What if you are going deaf and there is nothing you can do about it? That fear is unwarranted for most. Hearing loss is usually treatable medically or by using a hearing assistance device. Either way, you have more to lose than gain by avoiding this simple test. You are making a choice when you decide to live with your hearing loss instead of getting tested and treated. Now you know it’s a decision that can really cost you.
It’s true that hearing loss affects around 14 percent of the adult population in this country – including 25 percent of people over the age of 55. Tack on another 14.9 percent for kids who have some degree of hearing loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the impact this problem is clear. What do you think these individuals can’t hear, though?
What You Need to Know about Hearing Loss
Hearing range varies from person to person, depending on a number of factors such as their type of hearing loss. There are four categories of hearing loss:
Conductive – Implies sounds cannot get through to the inner ear to be interpreted by the brain.
Sensorineural – Loss results from damage or a defect to the inner ear or hearing nerve. The damage might be due to a congenital disorder, disease or trauma
Mixed Hearing Loss – A combination of both conductive and sensorineural problems
Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder – Occurs when the brain cannot interpret the sound due to damage to the inner ear.
Each type of loss brings on different symptoms. There are some common complaints between them, though: including what sounds they may or may not hear. Consider five sounds a person with hearing loss might miss.
Frequencies That are High
For some people, their hearing loss is limited to high frequencies – this person fails to interpret anything above 2,000 Hertz. This form of hearing loss makes it difficult to understand words. When this person watches TV or has a conversation, certain words will sound muttered or unclear for this person. The words affected contain the consonants S, H, and F, which usually fall between 1,500 to 6,000 Hertz.
Frequencies That are Low
Often the problem is at the opposite end of the sound scale. The low-frequency hearing loss involves sensorineural damage and impacts sound produced at less than 2,000 Hertz. Usually, low frequency hearing loss is a genetic or congenital defect such as cochlear malformation.
A person with conductive hearing loss can hear most sounds if they are loud enough, but not at normal volumes. This is why amplifying the sound with hearing aids is a solution for them and why they are always turning up the TV or need headphones to hear music. The ears work if the sound is loud enough to get through. When someone speaks in a normal voice, they may hear something but it sounds mumbled.
Conversation in a Noisy Room
Sometimes, it’s what you can hear that becomes the problem. People with a significant hearing challenge will experience something call recruitment noise. In other words, the background sounds overwhelm everything else. A sound like the air conditioner turning on masks all other noise.
This background noise can be painfully loud causing physical distress, too. The phenomenon occurs when an individual has both normal and damaged hair cells in the inner ear. The normal cells take over for damaged ones close by causing the sound to be excessively loud.
Speech of Any Kind
Profound hearing loss means you don’t hear speech at all. Medical professionals use a classification system to measure hearing loss in decibels – a person with normal hearing measures anywhere from -10 to 15 dB HL (decibels of hearing loss) during a hearing test. To be diagnosed with profound hearing loss, the classification is 91 or more dB HL.
No two people hear or don’t hear the same thing regardless of their hearing challenges. It all depends on why your hearing is diminished and how severely.
Brain training games are all extremely popular right now in part because people are conscious of their mental focus and memory–something that we all fear drops with age. These games market themselves the savior of mental function and those all too important memories.
Is all the brain training hype true, though? We don’t want to debate the pros and cons of memory games but the latest research is less than conclusive, specifically, they failed a major scientific test.
With brain training offering less promise than you might hope, what’s next for people who want to preserve their memories? What we do know is the connection between memory and hearing is bigger than most people understand. In fact, the research highlights the relationship between healthy hearing and a healthy memory.
To see the connection, you must understand how human memory works and why treating hearing loss gives yours a boost.
How human memory works
Human memory is a multifaceted and systemic brain process. There is no single area of the brain we can point to as being the one location where memories are stored.
Memories storage occurs across the brain via electrical and chemical signals that involve billions of neurons and trillions of connections. You can see why memory is not fully understood.
What we do know is the creation of memories occurs in three stages: encoding, storage, and retrieval.
During the first stage, which is encoding, you focus more on things in the environment. This step helps filter out the unimportant information, so you focus on what’s important. Without this initial step, the brain would store every stimulus you were exposed to and your memory would fill to capacity very quickly.
Stage two is memory storage. Short-term or working memory holds about seven pieces of information for only about 20-30 seconds. There are techniques to expand this capacity such as chunking (the breaking down of long strings of numbers into groups) or using mnemonic devices.
Information stored in short-term memory does one of two things: it either fades away and is lost or becomes stored as long-term memory. The keys to moving information from short-term to long-term memory involve attention, repetition, and association. The memory of any piece of information will improve if you are:
1. less distracted and more focused on the information you want to store.
2. exposed to the information more frequently and for longer periods of time.
3. able to associate the new information with information you already have.
Stage three is memory retrieval, which allows you to recall any information stored in long-term memory. The more efficiently the information in encoded and stored, the easier it will be to recall.
How growing older affects memory
The human brain has what scientists call plasticity, meaning it can change its structure in response to new stimuli. This is a good news/ bad news scenario.
As a person ages, the brain loses some cells, alters connections between cells, and generally shrinks in size. These structural and chemical changes effectively impair the memory and reduce cognitive function with age.
However, brain plasticity also means you can create new connections with age, in other words, learn new things and strengthen the memories at the same time. Studies show that exercise and mental stimulation keep our brains sharp well into our 80s.
It’s when you stop using your brain that memory declines with age. Maintaining an active mind and learning new things is critical to healthy aging.
How hearing loss affects memory
So, where does hearing loss fit in here? Can hearing loss actually affect a person’s memory?
Researchers have found that hearing loss does impact the memory. It’s not a hard concept to grasp. We already know that storing information in long-term memory relies on your ability to pay attention.
Imagine having a conversation with someone. When you have hearing loss, you may not be able to hear part of what is being said and that information is never able to properly. Later on, when you need to recall the information, it’s not there.
When you’re only hearing part of what is being said, you have to devote mental resources to figuring out the meaning of the information through context. In that struggle to understand, much information is distorted or lost.
Add to that the fact that the brain is able to reorganize itself to compensate for hearing loss. With reduced sound stimulation, the part of the brain responsible for auditory processing weakens and the brain then recruits this area for other tasks.
Improve your memory, schedule a hearing test
The solution to improving our memories as we age is clear. Keep the mind active and sharp by challenging yourself and continuing to learn new things. Don’t forget, also, a little physical exercise goes a long way.
Second, and equally as important, take steps necessary to improve hearing. Amplifying sound stimulation with hearing aids allows for better encoding and information storage, especially during conversations. In addition, the enhanced sound stimulation ensures the areas of the brain that process sound stay strong.
Let the brain games go—instead, work to learn something new and schedule a hearing test now.
Hearing loss is a common concern in the U.S., one that affects around 48 million people – that means 20 percent of the population. The chances you know someone who has hearing loss are around 1 in 5.
Usually, hearing loss occurs due to prolonged exposure to loud sounds or simply the consequences of aging. For some individuals, though, hearing loss is a symptom of a less common condition.
Consider six little-known hearing disorders you should know more about.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
Benign Paroxysmal positional vertigo causes pronounced dizziness related to a collection of calcium carbonate crystals, called “ear rocks,” that form inside the inner ear. The medical name for these crystals is otoconia.
Otoconia is usually caused by a head injury, an infection, or some similar disorder. Symptoms of BVVP include dizziness, poor balance, lightheadedness, and nausea. They may worsen with changes in head position.
BPPV can heal by itself, but there are also treatments available such as head exercises that help move crystals out of the inner ear structures. Drug therapy is sometimes used as is surgery.
Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear and hearing nerves that occur usually due to a viral, or less commonly, a bacterial, infection. This swollen area interrupts the transmission of sensory information to the brain, causing difficulties with balance, hearing, and even vision.
Treatments option will include antiviral or antibacterial drugs and therapies used to control the symptoms of dizziness or nausea. If diagnosed and treated right away, labyrinthitis usually causes no permanent damage. However, if left alone, permanent hearing loss can result.
Ménière’s disease is an illness that affects the inner ear to cause dizziness, progressive hearing loss, ringing in the ears, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear.
The cause of Ménière’s disease is not well understood but could be a combination of several factors, including poor fluid drainage of the inner ear, unusual immune response, viral infection, genetic predisposition, and head injury.
Treatment options include drug interventions for vertigo, hearing aids for hearing loss and tinnitus relief, antibiotics to treat infections, and surgery for severe cases.
An acoustic neuroma is a rare, but, benign, tumor that affects the hearing and balance nerves by disrupting the transmission of data to the brain. Although the tumor does not spread to other organs, it can become large enough to cause hearing loss and balance problems.
There are over 5,000 cases of acoustic neuroma annually in the US. Treatment generally includes surgical removal of the tumor or radiation. Without treatment, the acoustic neuroma can push into the brain, threatening neurological function and even life.
Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED)
Autoimmune inner ear disease, or AIED, is an uncommon and progressive condition that causes the immune cells to attack the inner ear. As with most autoimmune disorders, the cause is not well understood.
Symptoms of AIED include hearing loss, balance problems, and tinnitus. Diagnosis is done via hearing tests and also blood tests looking for general autoimmune diseases.
Treatment options are limited but improving; currently, they include a combination of steroids, other medications, plasmapheresis, and hearing aids or cochlear implants for hearing loss.
Otosclerosis is a genetic condition that involves the hardening of bones in the inner ear bones. These bones are critical elements in the transmission of sound vibrations to the inner ear and then to the brain. The hardening of these bones interferes will eventually lead to slowly progressing hearing loss.
Otosclerosis usually runs in families. If one parent has the disorder, there is a 25 percent chance of the child developing it, as well; two parents have the condition, the likelihood increases to 50 percent.
Treatment options for mild forms of the condition include long-term observation or hearing aids. Sodium fluoride is sometimes offered to slow the progression of the disorder. In certain situations, a surgical procedure called stapedectomy is done to remove the hardened bones and replaced them with a prosthetic device.
It’s important to pay attention to symptoms of hearing loss or changes in balance. Although these conditions are not common, they are all best treated early.