Dr. Benson completed her audiology fellowship at the California Ear Institute, Palo Alto, CA, and received her Doctor of Audiology degree at Salus University, Osborne School of Audiology, Elkins Park, PA. Prior to that, she received her Master of Science degree in Communication Disorders from Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, and her Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, CA.
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition that older adults experience. Projected to continue to increase, impaired hearing is a growing public health epidemic. Hearing loss is the reduced ability to hear which can significantly impact the ways a person navigates their daily life.
If left untreated, the impairment can worsen, lead to the development of other medical conditions, and increase one’s risk of personal injury in addition to: unemployment, underemployment, and cognitive decline.
Fortunately, there are useful ways that hearing loss is treated. Addressing hearing loss is critical to protecting your health and well-being. Treatment can significantly improve communication, relationships, and quality of life!
Understanding Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is much more common than you may initially think. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders:
1 in 8 people have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears
Nearly 25% of adults ages 65-74 have hearing loss
This increase to 50% for adults 75 and older
There are various factors that can contribute to hearing loss including
Existing medical conditions: such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity can contribute to the development of impaired hearing.
Genetic history: one’s genetic history can impact hearing, it is possible to inherit mutated genes that affect the auditory system.
Environmental exposure to loud noise: consistently absorbing loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear which help the brain process sound.
Hearing loss can be experienced mildly to severely and often makes communication difficult.
Impact of Hearing Loss
The sense of hearing is a major way we receive and process information, allowing us to make sense of the world. When this sense is impaired, engaging in daily activities and managing responsibilities becomes challenging. This can impact all aspect of one’s life in numerous ways including the following:
Straining Communication: hearing loss results in many barriers preventing effective hearing. People often experience tinnitus – a ringing or buzzing noise in one or both ears, sounds are muffled, difficulty distinguishing words, missing parts of a sentence etc. This makes hearing clearly and thoroughly a challenge. It can lead to miscommunication and missing critical details. People may also feel like you are not present and engaged in the conversation. But what they may perceive as being distracted, is actually you trying to hear as best you can.
Social Withdrawal: in addition to stretching yourself in trying to hear, you may frequently ask others to repeat themselves, speak loudly and/or slowly, need to move to a quieter area to have a conversation etc. The culmination of all of these effects makes having conversations a lot of work. One can experience serious fatigue and desire to avoid social interaction altogether. This includes avoiding gatherings, social activities, parties, events etc. Isolating oneself in this way means spending less time with family and friends, missing out on important moments, and nurturing connections. This creates distance and tension in relationships and can really affect one’s sense of community and belonging.
Overall Health Decline: strained communication and social withdrawal can take a toll on one’s mental and emotional health. It can contribute to loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Additionally, hearing loss increases the risk of developing other medical conditions such as cognitive decline and personal injuries.
If left untreated, these symptoms can deepen and become overwhelming. It is important to intervene as soon as you can to improve your health and wellness!
Benefits of Treatment
The great news is that there are effective ways to treat hearing loss! The first step is to schedule an appointment with a hearing healthcare specialist to have your hearing assessed.
Hearing tests are noninvasive, and a relatively simple way to determine your hearing ability in both ears as well as measure the degree (and specific type) of hearing loss you may be experiencing. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids which are small, electronic devices that are designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound; significantly increasing one’s ability to hear. This can profoundly improve your quality of life by: