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  • Patricia Faust

The Scourge of the Boomers - Untreated Hearing Loss


Never did we ever believe when we were much younger that we would be discussing hearing loss! That was in the realm of ‘old’ people and we couldn’t even imagine that. But time goes by and here we are – looking at a possible serious problem.


The Reasons Why We Can’t Hear

There are many reasons why we are now one of the 48 million Americans that are experiencing hearing problems. We loved LOUD, Rockin music – the louder, the better. The technology that was developing at that time introduced us to speakers that could make a room shudder with the volume they could put out. If you were inclined to be a musician – and who wasn’t – you would turn that amplifier up to deafening levels. Music sounded better – louder.


There is even a website dedicated to Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss (AAMHL – Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss) – www.aamhl.org

Professional musicians are sounding the alarm about the consequences of not using ear protection when they played on stage. The website Audicus (www.audicus.com/musicians-and -hearing-loss/) has a long list of rock stars you might recognize that now are hard of hearing:

Peter Townshend, Phil Collins, Bono, Sting, Roger Daltry, Ozzy Osbourne, Neal Young, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Brain Wilson (he had a congenital hearing defect).

There are other reasons we are having a hard time hearing. Our daily experience of loud environmental noises has increased in volume: more cars, construction, machinery, more people. Our daily lives are inundated with noise. This not only causes a lot of stress but it is affecting our hearing. Even using ear buds to listen to music can have an affect on our ability to hear. Research is starting to point to aging as a possible cause of hearing loss. The wear and tear on the auditory structure of the ears is taking its toll. Hair cells especially are vulnerable to damage and they don’t regenerate. By the time that Americans reach their 70’s, two-thirds have hearing loss.


Denial Is Not Just a River in Egypt

We see the many commercials on TV about hearing loss and hearing aids. We get mail all the time about being parts of trials or ‘use them free’ for a certain amount of time – all in an effort to sell more hearing aids. Now we can just blow that off as something for the other guy – but chances are likely you had to turn up the volume of the TV just so that you could hear what they were saying.

Some of us will not getting hearing aids – no matter what. It seems to be a sign of getting older – and of course that’s not true. We don’t want everyone to think we are old and decrepit – not us!


And for some of us – hearing aids are just tooooooo expensive. They are not covered by insurance and I am talking about Medicare. Because the issue of hearing loss is so big now due to the Boomers, there is some action among insurance companies and the hearing aid companies to reel in costs. New technological innovations are making it possible to buy hearing aids online without the cost of testing and fitting in place. This is newer and it still remains to be seen if these newer hearing aids will be effective. In the meantime, many boomers continue to think ‘no big deal’; “I got along fine without them so far and I am doing ok”. This could result in a serious health crisis for many of us.


Untreated Hearing Loss – A Link to Dementia

It is aggravating not being able to hear. It is aggravating living with someone who can’t hear. Why is that you ask? When you can’t hear each other you repeat everything at least twice. You can hear what the other person is saying only if you are in the same room – looking at each other while you talk. This could seem romantic – but not so much! It takes two people to watch TV. You each fill in the gaps for the other. And, it is hard being out and about with other people. It is uncomfortable to ask someone to repeat what they said – all of the time. And, if you are feeling awkward about asking for the repeat you just don’t get what the conversation is all about.


The National Council on Aging found that people with hearing loss are also prone to anxiety and paranoia. A quarter of older Americans with hearing loss agree with the statement: “People get mad at me for no reason.” Those with hearing loss can talk over others, miss out on conversations or ask people to repeat themselves. They can also assign meaning to words they cannot hear. This can make daily interactions frustrating for the person with hearing loss and their coworkers, friends and family. (Shea Hearing Center, Jan.23, 2018).


So how do these problems add up to a high risk for developing dementia? Although there are a number of research studies that show a correlation between untreated hearing loss and the higher risk of developing dementia – there hasn’t been a good study to find the cause for this outcome. There are some theories though that point to cause:

· People with hearing loss tend to feel more isolated because joining in on conversations is difficult as well as, being social with people you can’t hear. There is a research link that shows that being isolated can result in depression and loneliness – both high risk factors for dementia.

· Your brain has to work a lot harder to process sound. This causes resources in your brain to be allocated to processing these sounds, rather than use for other important activities. This is ‘cognitive load’.

· If your ears can no longer pick up on as many sounds, your hearing nerves will send fewer signals to your brain. As a result, your brain declines. (www.webmd.com)


The Solution

Dr. Frank Lin, an expert on hearing research and a practitioner at John Hopkins Center on Aging and Health, conducted a study that found that people with hearing loss were 24 percent more likely to experience cognitive decline when compared to peers without hearing loss. Some people with hearing loss can perceive sounds but not process them into meaningful speech while others cannot hear most sounds and cannot gauge the world around them. How can you make memories when you didn’t hear it correctly in the first place? Hearing devices not only guard against the health consequences of hearing loss but can also serve to reverse symptoms of cognitive decline.


Dr. Lin is in the midst of a multiyear study to determine if hearing aids can cut dementia. Even though there have been no results of this study available yet, Dr. Lin believes there is no downside to using hearing aids. In fact, being able to hear better provides a huge upside in improving the quality of your life because you can just – well - hear better.


References:

Gordan,A. (June 13, 2017). The connection between hearing loss and dementia. Hearing Health Foundation. Retrieved July 16, 2018 from https://hearinghealthfoundation.org/blogs/connection-hearing-loss-dementia


Kopf, A. (January 23, 2018). The surprising consequences of untreated hearing loss. Shea Hearing Center. Retrieved July 16, 2018 from https://www.tennesssean.com/story/sponsor-story/shea-hearing/2018/01/23/surprisong-consequences-untreated-hearing-loss/1058067001/


WebMD. Hearing Loss and Dementia: The Silent Connection. Retrieved July 16, 2018 from https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/hearing-loss-dementia

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