How Treating Hearing Loss Improves Your Relationships

We once thought of mild-to-moderate hearing loss as an unfortunate condition that might make conversation a little more difficult, but that would ultimately have little consequences outside of mild frustration. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown the situation to be more complicated, with hearing loss being tied to a host of negative social and health outcomes.

Not Enough People Treat Their Hearing Loss

About 48 million Americans suffer from some type of hearing loss, but only about 16% of those people wear hearing aids. On average, it takes a person seven years from the time they notice hearing loss to when they seek treatment for it. Most people undertake a balance of frustration and adjustment as hearing loss progresses, until it reaches a point when hearing aids seem like the only option.

Unfortunately, this lack of treatment allows changes to occur in the brain that makes treating hearing loss much more of an adjustment, requiring retraining in speech comprehension. Furthermore, the years of frustration can be avoided with earlier adoption of hearing aids.

Better Hearing Makes for Better Relationships

The trend we see amongst those with untreated hearing loss is a general pulling away from social functions, which makes friendships suffer. At home with partners or loved ones, hearing loss makes communication more difficult as well. Couples in which one partner suffers from hearing loss tend to communicate less as it becomes more difficult, and this strains the relationship as the thousands of ways we communicate throughout the day seem to slowly disappear.

You see, it’s not just that it becomes harder to make plans or discuss big, important events. Intimacy requires being “in tune” with one another. Think back on your relationship, and you’ll remember general impressions like the look on your partner’s face and the moods you might see them cycle through. All of these impressions were built on tiny moments of communication that happened so effortlessly that most of them go unnoticed. When we can’t communicate clearly with our partners and loved ones, there’s a disconnect that can widen over time.

By treating hearing loss with hearing aids, we can stay in the conversation and keep the banter going through the years. This is not just a theoretical possibility, but has been confirmed by countless people who have gotten hearing aids. Both parties to a couple, the partner with normal hearing and the partner with hearing loss, over and over again say that hearing aids greatly improved their relationship.

Both Partners Suffer When One Has Untreated Hearing Loss

Even with a very understanding partner, those with untreated hearing loss report feeling disconnected in the sense that their partner may not realize how difficult background noise can make it to understand speech, or how exhausting it is to carry on a conversation when you can’t hear the other person clearly. It’s like having a bad phone connection all the time!

And the partners with normal hearing mention how it’s frustrating not to be able to visit favorite places because of background noise, or how frustrating it can be to need to repeat much of what they say.

Hearing Aids Can Help

A good set of hearing aids can restore hearing to near-normal, meaning that you can participate in conversation as easily as you did before hearing loss became an issue. Some models are even able to make listening to music as lifelike as it is for the unaided ear.

Hearing aids are smaller and smarter than ever, with computer DSP (digital signal processing) that can reduce background noise and improve directionality. Models that perform these functions can actually improve speech intelligibility to better than normal. If you also suffer from tinnitus, as many of us with hearing loss do, today’s hearing aids can provide masking tones in inaudible frequency bands, so the tinnitus is relieved without adding additional noise.

They can also integrate with Bluetooth and car audio systems to improve hearing on the go, and telecoils can drastically improve the experience at movie theaters, museums, and more. Many models can be adjusted with smartphones or key fobs so you don’t need to pull them out or have exposed knobs available to change the program for different environments.

Don’t let your loved ones, or yourself, suffer because of untreated hearing loss. Make an appointment for a hearing test today and see what hearing aids can do to improve your relationships and your life!

Addressing Hearing Loss May Improve Care of Older Adults

Hospital care for older patients can be difficult for a variety of reasons, but one thing that’s been pointed out in medical literature recently is the difficulty posed by hearing loss. Medical care relies, even more than we might guess, on dialogue between the patient, nurses and doctors. When the patient suffers from untreated hearing loss, effective medical treatment can be difficult or impossible.

In fact, a study conducted at the New York University in New York City discovered that patients with hearing loss are 32% more likely to be readmitted within one month of being discharged from the hospital. Taking into account that people with hearing loss are more likely to be admitted in the first place, this accounts for a lot of hospitalization that might be preventable with treatment for hearing loss.

Social Isolation and Hearing Loss in the Hospital

Hearing loss, especially when undiagnosed and untreated, leads to a cascade of negative health outcomes. Social isolation is a common one. Hearing loss can cause miscommunication with nursing home staff that can lead to erroneous assumptions of dementia, as well. As hearing loss progresses and the auditory cortex in the brain begins to atrophy, a patient with hearing loss who is generally socially isolated might be unable to understand speech even when they hear it clearly.

Miscommunication

The most likely reason for the inconsistent treatment of patients with hearing loss is miscommunication. Patients undergoing emergency room treatment are often disoriented by their acute medical condition or anaesthetics. The hospital environment is also likely to be noisier than the patient encounters with regularity, and miscommunications due to hearing loss are exacerbated by background noise. One way miscommunication could be avoided is placing patients who have hearing loss or are suspected of having undiagnosed hearing loss in quieter environments for consultation.

Sometimes hospital staff, when having difficulty making themselves understood to patients with hearing loss, resort to shouting. Unfortunately, this usually does not increase the likelihood that they will be understood; shouting will more often distort speech than make it clearer. It might also violate HIPAA privacy regulations.

Communicating with Patients with Hearing Loss

The best way to communicate, un-aided, to a person with hearing loss is to speak a little more slowly—not drawing out your words but adding more space between them—and a little more loudly. Make sure they can see your face. If they ask you to repeat something, rather than saying the same thing again, try saying it in different words.

Patients with age-related hearing loss, who were comfortable in hearing culture for most of their lives, rarely know sign language, so sign language interpreters who are on staff to communicate with the deaf will not get far with a patient who has age-related hearing loss.

FM Devices

Hospitals should keep FM devices at the ready. Unfortunately, this is not currently a common practice. If a patient is having trouble communicating, an FM device, which will simply make the sound of medical staff’s voices louder, could be enough to improve their outcome. Many patients will not be familiar with this technology, so hospital staff will need to explain it to them.

Most patients who arrive in the emergency room with pre-existing, undiagnosed hearing loss are from lower income brackets. It could be very significant for them to discover that their hearing loss can be treated with an FM device, though hearing aids may unfortunately be out of reach for them, financially.

Recording Previously Undiagnosed Hearing Loss

To help with the problem of diagnosing hearing loss, patients’ medical records can be tagged with a highly visible indicator that the patient has demonstrated hearing difficulty when interfacing with medical professionals in the past. This avoids the problem of having to rediscover on each visit that a patient has hearing loss.

Treating Hearing Loss with Hearing Aids

Of course, hearing aids are one of the best ways for people with hearing loss to spend as little time in the hospital as possible, and to get the most out of their treatment when they are there. Education about the importance of hearing aids to general health and well-being should be more prevalent, but in the meantime, medical staff should make the most of every encounter and encourage patients to get their hearing tested regularly.

Contact us today to learn more about our hearing health services and to schedule a hearing test!

Celebrate World Alzheimer’s Month with a Hearing Test!

September is celebrated globally as World Alzheimer’s Month. How does that concern our hearing practice? Alzheimer’s disease is one of the strongest-associated conditions with untreated hearing loss. Recently, The Lancet published a report on the global state of Alzheimer’s, acknowledging that 40% of cases are brought about by a combination of 12 modifiable risk factors. For reference, these are:

    • Excessive alcohol consumption
    • Traumatic brain injury
    • Air pollution
    • Inadequate education up to age 20
    • Hypertension
    • Smoking
    • Obesity
    • Depression
    • Lack of exercise
    • Diabetes
    • Social isolation
    • Hearing loss

Obviously, while some of these risk factors are within the power of an individual to control, others will require concerted group efforts put forward by governmental organizations around the world. And while hearing loss is itself on this list, many of the other factors are also risk factors for hearing loss.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. Dementia is a progressive brain disorder characterized by memory troubles, cognitive problems, behavioral issues and abnormal mood shifts. While there are other forms of dementia, somewhere between 60-80% of cases fall under the Alzheimer’s disease umbrella. 

Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging but a disorder that is caused by the buildup of plaque and protein “tangles” in parts of the brain. Usually diagnosed consequent of obvious memory trouble, Alzheimer’s patients generally live about 4-8 years after diagnosis, though sometimes live up to 20 years. Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th most common cause of death in the United States.

The Link Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Hearing Loss

While the link between dementia and hearing loss has been statistically established beyond a doubt by multiple studies in different corners of the globe, it’s not yet known exactly why this link exists. One thing that is clear is that hearing aids help slow or prevent the onset of dementia – and Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common forms of the condition. 

There are two main theories as to why hearing loss might lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Hearing Loss, Social Isolation and Alzheimer’s Disease

The first has to do with social isolation. As hearing loss progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to participate in conversations. It’s fatiguing to try to keep up with what’s being said when we need to piece sentences together from partial understanding and context clues. Social events become a chore, and our time with friends and family becomes exhausting.

The link between hearing loss and social isolation, loneliness and depression is well-established, and this is how it begins. Once we begin to withdraw from social life, the unfortunate trajectory is laid out for us: social isolation is a definite risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Hearing Loss, Brain Atrophy and Alzheimer’s Disease

A second theory about how hearing loss is connected to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease has to do with the atrophy of the auditory cortex. This phenomenon is seen in many patients whose hearing loss has gone untreated for a long time.

As hearing loss progresses and the brain sees less information coming to it from the ears, the auditory cortex literally begins to shrink. The brain cells do not die, but the grey matter supporting the neural network shrinks in size.

The effects of this process are seen when a person who has been living with hearing loss for a long time finally gets hearing aids: they’ve lost the ability to understand speech! Luckily, with some effort and frequent use of their hearing aids, they can retrain their brains to comprehend speech. Many audiologists offer training courses to help those who are new to hearing aids to get comfortable listening to speech again.

If hearing aids never enter the picture, it’s possible that this atrophy of the auditory cortex proceeds to earlier onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Better Diet and Exercise

While hearing aids are a big part of the picture in terms of staving off Alzheimer’s disease, research strongly indicates that an anti-inflammatory diet such as the Alternate Mediterranean diet (AMED) or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) can both help slow the progress of age-related hearing loss as well as Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, a healthy diet is also an important measure toward preventing other problems throughout the body such as cardiovascular disease. Exercise in mid-life is also strongly recommended to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The Better Hearing Institute, a non-profit organization, recommends getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years after that. If you’re due for a hearing test, contact us today and keep up with your hearing health, brain health, and general sense of well-being.