My departed Grandmother, as far back as I can recall, was deaf. Not completely deaf but hearing compromised to the point that we would have to repeat most things in conversing with her and speak loudly. When we asked why she didn’t want a hearing aid her typical response would be “I hear everything I want to hear, thank you very much.” And that was that.
Hearing loss did not leave her feeling she was missing out in life. She was an avid reader and actually seemed to revel in not hearing what was going on in the world. She did not ever seem frustrated trying to decipher conversations, unlike those who were trying to engage with her.
Becoming deaf can be a gradual process, the result of cumulative assaults on our hearing. But once the damage has been done, it cannot be undone. That said, there are remedies which we will examine.
What are the Causes of Deafness?
Experts agree that one of the main contributors to becoming deaf is noise: a noisy workplace, loud tools, noisy restaurants or other social gatherings, stereos blaring at home or in your car, concerts…it’s all a progressive assault on our hearing. Ear infections, mumps, measles, meningitis and whooping cough can all result in hearing loss. Genetics can also play a role. Then there’s hearing loss the result of aging called Presbycusis which affects 1 person out of 3 by age 65 and 40% of the population over the age of 75. More than 80% of the population experiences hearing loss after the age of 85 with men usually experiencing the worst hearing loss with earlier onset.
Diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as any heart condition, stroke, brain injury, tumour or certain medications can impact our ability to hear. Other than the inevitability of aging, prevention in large part seems to come down to lifestyle, healthy living and avoidance of anything that could compromise hearing. The link below examines in some detail the observed association between hearing impairment and a 30-40% cognitive decline. There does appear to be an association: “Neuroimaging studies have…demonstrated independent associations of hearing impairment with reduced cortical volumes in the auditory cortex and accelerated rates of lateral temporal lobe and whole brain atrophy.” Given the number of people who will be diagnosed with Alzheimers or Dementia in our lifetime, scientists want to research this association and hopefully conclude that the use of assistive hearing devices might lower the incidence of cognitive decline. Here is the full article made possible through HHS Public Access: Hearing Loss and Dementia — Who’s Listening, Frank R. Lin MD PhD and Marilyn Albert PhD
What are the first signs of general hearing loss?
Tinnitis is one of the first signs of hearing loss – that hissing, ringing nuisance that never seems to leave, sometimes in one ear, sometimes in both. The inability to process sounds in a group setting also known as auditory processing disorder is another sign. An example of this would be one’s inability to follow a conversation in a group of people where there is some background noise. The frequent impression that other people are mumbling is another sign of hearing impairment as is straining to hear a conversation, difficulty hearing on the telephone, asking people to repeat themselves, or turning up the volume of the radio or television – all indicators that hearing impairment is in play. Someone who appears to be “out of it” may be someone who just does not hear what is going on in their immediate environment and therefore is unresponsive to it.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
Our ability to hear is something most of us take for granted – until we lose it. Becoming progressively deaf has consequences: primarily social isolation and the resulting loneliness with depression & anxiety following. Then there is the cognitive decline, probably one of the more serious considerations associated with hearing loss.
Quality of life for the hearing impaired is impacted by 3 things: emotional reaction, behavioural reaction such as withdrawal and bluffing and cognitive reaction presenting as confusion; lack of focus, distracted behaviour and frustration and all that accompanies any state of frustration.
So what can be done to mitigate the consequences of hearing loss?
The first step in assessing hearing loss would be to schedule a hearing exam also known as an audiogram – a test which will determine if hearing loss has occurred and the severity of it. A hearing exam takes about an hour and is simple and non invasive. A technician equips you with headphones and then you respond appropriately to the signals sent through the headphones. From there a specialist in audio assistive devices can consult on what device would be best suited to your needs and to your budget.
There is no benefit in living out your life hearing impaired
Unlike my grandmother who was not a consumer of media, who never turned on her radio and who did not own a television, most seniors today rely on media for their news and entertainment. Keeping in the know is important. Hearing and discussing the news of the day with anyone is a social interaction and informative. And being able to carry on a normal conversation without having to ask others to repeat themselves several times makes for an even better social interaction. Hearing others and being heard can’t be underestimated. You may love someone with a hearing impairment but after awhile it can become a situation where you no longer want to try to communicate and repeat yourself several times so you just avoid communicating all the but most pressing issues. Dialog becomes a thing of the past.
There’s also the issue of safety. If a senior cannot hear properly, driving or cycling or simply walking might be hazardous if they can’t hear another vehicle approaching or a cyclist calling out a warning of their approach. And finally there is that research linking deafness to cognitive decline. That should give anyone pause, because if hearing assistive devices can slow or arrest the development of Alzheimers or Dementia, that in itself should seal the deal: get tested and take remedial action.