An audiologist once explained to me that people typically wait around seven years after learning that they have hearing impairment before seeking professional help. While most can get by during that time, the toll of the loss adds up. Social and cognitive changes can slowly accumulate over time.
My dad’s hearing was destroyed by exposure to airplane engine noise. One of my dearest friends now has a cochlear implant after years of anti-inflammatory drug treatment. Others are affected by industrial and other workplace noise exposure. While old age is commonly accompanied by sensory changes that affect our vision and hearing, a wide range of people experience hearing loss.
o One in eight people in the United States (13 percent, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears.
o About 18 percent of adults aged 20-69 have speech-frequency hearing loss in both ears from among those who report 5 or more years of exposure to very loud noise at work, as compared to 5.5 percent of adults with speech-frequency hearing loss in both ears who report no occupational noise exposure.
o About 28.8 million U.S. adults could benefit from using hearing aids.
Source: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing
Why do we hesitate to seek professional intervention for our hearing? One reason is that learning to use and maintain hearing aids is time consuming. Another possibility is that hearing aids do not restore our hearing, only to aid it, which can contribute to a frustrating experience at the outset. The financial hit can be substantial: Most health insurance plans, along with Medicare, do not provide benefits for this too common health need.
What are the costs of untreated hearing loss? Risk of developing brain atrophy leading to cognitive decline, loss of balance and social isolation are some of the known problems that develop over time. “In a study that tracked 639 adults for nearly 12 years, Johns Hopkins expert Frank Lin, MD, PhD, and his colleagues found that mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Moderate loss tripled risk, and people with a severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia.”
Source: John Hopkins longitudinal study of hearing loss https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-hidden-risks-of-hearing-loss
The good news is that the power of neuroplasticity is on our side. Areas of the brain that process certain sounds in our environment are restored to their original function with the use of hearing aids. In an excellent episode of the Aging Matters podcast, guests discuss how hearing aids work, what the benefits are and the advent of the newly FDA-approved over the counter products.