Why is it better to treat hearing loss sooner rather than later?
Identifying and addressing hearing loss early brings many benefits. From enhancing your quality of life, to helping protect against several health consequences linked to unaddressed hearing loss, the case for early treatment is strong.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to never put off a hearing test and treatment, however is simply this: We “hear” with our brain, not with our ears. When we have a hearing loss, the connections in the brain that respond to sound become reorganized.
Fortunately, for many people, hearing aids can provide the sound stimulation needed for the brain to restore the normal organization of connections to its “sound center” so it can more readily react to the sounds that it had been missing and cognitively process them.
In fact, the vast majority of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. And dramatic new technological advances have completely transformed hearing aids in recent years, making them more effective, comfortable, and easy to use. So the sooner you identify hearing loss and start using professionally fitted hearing aids if recommended by a hearing healthcare professional, the sooner you’ll begin to reap the rewards of better hearing.
The benefits of early treatment on quality of life and health
For many years, experts have known the positive impact that addressing hearing loss has on quality of life. Research shows that many people with hearing loss who use hearing aids see an improvement in their ability to hear in many settings; and many see an improvement in their relationships at home and at work, in their social lives, and in their ability to communicate effectively in most situations. Many even say they feel better about themselves and life overall.
More recently, however, researchers are discovering a significant link between hearing loss and other health issues, such as cognition, dementia, depression, falling, hospitalization, mortality, and overall physical and mental health.
To get a fuller sense of why it’s so important to treat hearing loss sooner rather than later, just consider the latest research on hearing loss and these seven health issues:
- Cognition: According to Brandeis University Professor of Neuroscience, Dr. Arthur Wingfield, who has been studying cognitive aging and the relationship between memory and hearing acuity, unaddressed hearing loss not only affects the listener’s ability to “hear” the sound accurately, but it also affects higher-level cognitive functioning. Specifically, it interferes with the listener’s ability to accurately process the auditory information and make sense of it. For instance, in one study, Wingfield and his co-investigators found that older adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss performed poorer on cognitive tests than those of the same age who had good hearing. According to Wingfield, “The sharpness of an individual’s hearing has cascading consequences for various aspects of cognitive function. Even if you have just a mild hearing loss that is not being treated, cognitive load increases significantly. You have to put in so much effort just to perceive and understand what is being said that you divert resources away from storing what you have heard into your memory.”
- Risk of dementia: A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging found that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing. Another study, by hearing experts at Johns Hopkins, found that older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than older adults whose hearing is normal.
- Brain shrinkage: Results of a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging found that although the brain becomes smaller with age, the shrinkage seems to be fast-tracked in older adults with hearing loss. Another study, conducted by Brandeis University Professor of Neuroscience, Dr. Arthur Wingfield, along with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis, has used MRI to look at the effect that hearing loss has on both brain activity and structure. Their study found that people with poorer hearing had less gray matter in the auditory cortex, a region of the brain that is necessary to support speech comprehension. Wingfield has suggested the possibility that the participants’ hearing loss had a causal role. He and his co-investigators hypothesize that when the sensory stimulation is reduced due to hearing loss, corresponding areas of the brain reorganize their activity as a result.
- Risk of falling: A Johns Hopkins study showed that people in middle age (40-69) with even just mild hearing loss were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling. The intensive listening effort demanded by unaddressed hearing loss may take cognitive resources away from what is needed for balance and gait, experts have suggested.
- Increased hospitalizations: A Johns Hopkins study found that older adults with hearing loss were 32 percent more likely to have been admitted to a hospital than their peers with normal hearing. The study also found that older adults with hearing loss were 36 percent more likely to have prolonged stretches of illness or injury (lasting more than 10 days).
- Mortality: One National Institutes of Health-supported study of older people even found that hearing loss is tied to greater risk of dying for older men from any cause and particularly from cardiovascular causes. The same study found that men and women who used hearing aids, although they were older and had more severe hearing loss, had significantly lower mortality risk compared with hearing impaired men and women who did not use hearing aids.
- Depression: Several studies have found a link between depression and hearing loss. A Johns Hopkins study found that older adults with hearing loss were 57 percent more likely to have deep episodes of stress, depression or bad mood than their peers with normal hearing. Another study showed that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages, but is most pronounced in 18 to 69 year olds. Another study, conducted in Italy, looked at working adults—35 to 55 years of age—with untreated mild to moderate age-related hearing loss and found that they were more prone to depression, anxiety, and interpersonal sensitivity than those with no hearing problems.
Other Questions & Answers Below:
How does treating hearing loss help with stress?
The intensive listening effort demanded by untreated hearing loss can be extremely stressful.
Experts believe that even if you have just a mild hearing loss that is not being treated, cognitive load increases significantly.
Research shows that when left unaddressed, hearing loss is frequently associated with other physical, mental, and emotional health issues that diminish quality of life.
Withdrawal from social situations, a lessened ability to cope, and reduced overall psychological health are just some of the conditions associated with unaddressed hearing loss. Often, people with untreated hearing loss feel angry, frustrated, anxious, isolated, and depressed.
A 2014 study, in fact, showed that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages, but is most pronounced in 18 to 69 year olds. Another study, conducted in Italy, looked at working adults—35 to 55 years of age—with untreated mild to moderate age-related hearing loss and found that they were more prone to depression, anxiety, and interpersonal sensitivity than those with no hearing problems.
The good news is that for the vast majority of people with hearing loss, hearing aids can help. In fact, research shows that most people with hearing loss who use hearing aids see improvements in their ability to communicate effectively in most situations.
When people with hearing loss use hearing aids, their mental health often rallies and depressive symptoms are often reduced. Many people regain emotional stability; have an easier time joining in groups and become more socially engaged; experience a greater sense of safety and independence; feel more in control of their lives; and see a general improvement in their overall quality of life. Many even report improvements in their relationships at home and at work.
Simply, the majority of hearing aid users say they’re satisfied with the changes that have occurred in their lives due to their hearing aids. And many say they feel better about themselves and life overall as a result.
Getting a hearing test and using professionally fitted hearing aids—when recommended by a hearing healthcare professional—is an important way for people with hearing loss to ease the stress associated with intensive listening and to safeguard their mental health and quality of life.
To determine if you need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional, take this free, quick, and confidential online hearing check.
Why is it so important to get routine hearing tests if I have diabetes?
Research shows that people with diabetes are about twice as likely to develop hearing loss.
Yet hearing tests are frequently overlooked in routine diabetes care. In fact, some experts believe that hearing loss may be an under-recognized complication of diabetes. http://ow.ly/DuVyB
A meta-analysis of 13 different studies found that younger people with diabetes were at an even greater risk of hearing loss. Those with diabetes who were older than 60 were 1.58 times more likely to have hearing loss. But the risk jumped to 2.61 times higher for those 60 and younger. http://ow.ly/DpXDv
Another study, by researchers at Henry Ford Hospital, found that women between the ages of 60 and 75 with well-controlled diabetes had better hearing than women whose diabetes was poorly controlled, shedding light on the importance of keeping diabetes under control to maintain healthy hearing. http://ow.ly/DCB8K
Still another study, of patients from a large primary care clinic in the United Kingdom, found that hearing loss is prevalent among people with diabetes and has a strong association with peripheral neuropathy. The hearing loss group in that study had almost twice the rate of at-risk feet. http://ow.ly/KBYFd
BHI strongly encourages people with diabetes to include regular hearing tests as part of their routine diabetes care. Unrecognized and/or unaddressed hearing loss can interfere with good diabetes management by posing a barrier to good communications between people with diabetes and their doctors. What’s more, untreated hearing loss is often associated with other significant physical, mental, and emotional health conditions.
To help you take the first step, BHI has a free, quick, and confidential online hearing check. Anyone can take the confidential online survey to determine if they need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional.
Research shows that when people address hearing loss, their quality of life often improves. Eight out of 10 hearing aid users, in fact, say they’re satisfied with the changes that have occurred in their lives due to their hearing aids—from how they feel about themselves to the positive changes they see in their relationships, social interactions, and work lives.
5 Habits for Healthier Hearing for People with Diabetes
To help protect your hearing, be sure to follow these five healthy habits:
- Get a thorough hearing exam every year and watch for signs of hearing loss. You do it for your eyes. Now do it for your ears. Be sure to see a hearing healthcare professional every year for a thorough hearing examination. If you notice a change in your ability to hear under certain conditions—like at a restaurant or on a conference call—go sooner. And share the information with your primary care physician and endocrinologist.
- Use hearing aids, if recommended. People often compensate for hearing difficulty by turning up the volume to unhealthy levels, which in turn can cause further hearing damage. While hearing loss is not reversible, today’s hearing aids can dramatically enhance your ability to hear and engage with others—which can make a tremendous difference in your overall quality of life. Hearing aid technology has advanced radically in recent years. Many hearing aids are virtually invisible, sitting discreetly and comfortably inside the ear canal. They adjust to all kinds of noise environments and pick up sound from all directions. Best of all, many are wireless. Today’s hearing aids can stream sound directly from your smartphone, home entertainment system, and other electronics directly into the hearing aid itself—at volumes just right for you. Some are even waterproof.
- Keep your blood sugar under control. Just as your heart, eye, and nerve health are affected by your blood sugar levels, your hearing health may be as well. Work with your doctor to monitor your blood sugar and take appropriate medicines as prescribed.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Even for people without diabetes, a healthy lifestyle benefits hearing health. Not smoking, exercising, and maintaining a healthy diet all support your ability to hear. In fact, studies show that smoking and obesity may increase the risk of hearing loss, while regular physical activity seems to help protect against it. http://ow.ly/DbkDZ; http://ow.ly/DbkT9; http://ow.ly/Dbldc
- Use ear protection. Everyone is at risk of noise-induced hearing loss. But using ear protection is one of the best—and simplest—things you can do to preserve your hearing. Carry disposable earplugs with you, especially when you know you’ll be somewhere noisy. Use appropriate ear protection in loud work environments. Keep the volume on smartphones and other electronics low. Limit your use of headphones and ear buds. And get in the habit of quickly plugging your ears with your fingers and walking away if a loud noise takes you by surprise. Most of all, limit your time in noisy environments.
What’s the link between chronic kidney disease (CKD) and hearing loss?
A team of Australian researchers found that older adults with moderate chronic kidney disease (CKD) have a higher prevalence of hearing loss than those of the same age without CKD, according to a study published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases and highlighted on the National Kidney Foundation website.
The researchers assessed more than 2,900 people aged 50 and older, including 513 with moderate CKD. More than 54 percent of those with CKD reported some level of hearing loss compared to only 28 percent of the rest of the group. Nearly 30 percent of the CKD participants showed severe hearing loss compared with only 10 percent of the non-CKD participants.
According to study author, David C. Harris, structural and functional similarities between tissues in the inner ear and in the kidney may explain the link between moderate chronic kidney disease and hearing loss. He also said that toxins that accumulate in kidney failure can damage nerves, including those in the inner ear, according to the National Kidney Foundation’s website.
BHI believes that hearing tests by a hearing care professional should be a routine part of the medical care for people with kidney disease to help optimize their quality of life.
March is National Kidney Month. For more information on kidney disease, visit www.kidney.org.
2015 New Year’s Resolutions: How can getting my hearing tested make 2015 a better year for me?
If you want to make a New Year’s resolution that will really boost your life and well-being throughout all of 2015, then get your hearing tested.
Addressing hearing loss can add to quality of life in many ways. Here’s a short-list of what getting a hearing test and using professionally fitted hearing aids, if recommended by a hearing care professional, may do for you:
- Strengthen ties with family and friends. Healthy relationships rest largely on good communication. In one BHI study, more than half the respondents said using hearing aids improved their relationships at home, their social lives, and their ability to join in groups. Many even saw improvements in their romance.
- Raise your spirits. People with untreated hearing loss often feel angry, frustrated, anxious, isolated, and depressed. But research shows that when they use hearing aids, many become more socially engaged, feel a greater sense of safety and independence, and see a general improvement in their overall quality of life.
- Lead you to feel better about yourself. An important perk of using hearing aids can be enhanced emotional well-being. Research shows that when people with hearing loss use hearing aids, many feel more in control of their lives and less self-critical. One BHI study found that the majority of people with mild and severe hearing loss felt better about themselves and life overall as a result of using hearing aids.
- Keep your mind sharp. Studies out of Johns Hopkins linked hearing loss with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults and found that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time. BHI studies found that many people with hearing loss report improvements in their cognitive skills with the use of hearing aids.
- Unleash your earning potential. Hearing your best at work helps you do your best. One study found that using hearing aids reduced the risk of income loss by 90 to 100 percent for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 to 77 percent for those with severe to moderate hearing loss. And people with hearing loss who use hearing aids are more likely to be employed than their peers who don’t.
So go ahead. Click here to take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing check to determine if you need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional. And let us be the first to congratulate you on your motivation and determination. You’ve taken the first step on the road to better hearing and to securing a better quality of life for yourself in 2015.
How do I know if I have a hearing loss?
The signs of hearing loss can be subtle and emerge slowly, or they can be significant and come on suddenly. Either way, there are common indications. You should suspect hearing loss if you experience any of the signs below. You might have hearing loss if you…
- Require frequent repetition;
- Have difficulty following conversations involving more than two people;
- Think that other people sound muffled or like they're mumbling;
- Have difficulty hearing in noisy situations, like conferences, restaurants, malls, or crowded meeting rooms;
- Have trouble hearing children and women;
- Have your TV or radio turned up to a high volume;
- Answer or respond inappropriately in conversations;
- Have ringing in your ears; and/or
- Read lips or more intently watch people's faces when they speak with you.
- Feel stressed out from straining to hear what others are saying;
- Feel annoyed at other people because you can't hear or understand them;
- Feel embarrassed to meet new people or from misunderstanding what others are saying;
- Feel nervous about trying to hear and understand; and/or
- Withdraw from social situations that you once enjoyed because of difficulty hearing.
- Have a family history of hearing loss;
- Take medications that can harm the hearing system (ototoxic drugs);
- Have diabetes, heart, circulation or thyroid problems;
- Have been exposed to very loud sounds over a long period or single exposure to explosive noise.