It may happen so gradually that you don’t notice any changes. You might even feel a bit irritated when people around you ‘mumble’ or talk so quietly you can’t understand what they are saying.
Maybe hearing loss isn’t something that has been on your radar, but it is something that will affect at least a third of people by the time they are 65+. WebMD states that two-thirds of people over 70 have some hearing loss. It isn’t just the hearing loss that should concern all of us. Rather, the effects of hearing loss are what we need to consider.
Hearing Loss Symptoms
According to John Hopkins Medicine, common symptoms of age-related hearing loss could include perceiving other people’s speech as sounding mumbled or slurred, having a hard time distinguishing high-pitched sounds, finding it difficult to understand conversations when there is a lot of background noise, and having more difficulty hearing women’s voices than those of men.
Reduction in Quality of Life
Loss of hearing can affect the quality of our lives if not addressed. Hearing loss has been associated with increased isolation, dependence, frustration, and communication difficulties. Imagine being at a family gathering and missing half the conversation because you can’t pick up what others are saying. Imagine misunderstanding what a loved one is saying and becoming angry because you misinterpreted what had been said. Until we start losing it, we don’t know how much we depend on our good hearing.
Loss of Balance
Hearing loss has also been associated with balance problems. The Mayo Clinic reports that hearing loss is frequently associated with a balance problem. The American Speech-Hearing Association said that even a mild degree of hearing loss can triple the likelihood of an accidental fall. Further, the risk reportedly increases by 140 percent for every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss. Some of the suggested reasons for hearing-loss-related balance problems include a decreased level of spatial awareness, decreased environmental awareness, and more mental resources focusing on hearing and interpreting sound rather than focusing on balance.
A loss of balance as we age can be serious – especially if a hip is broken. According to the CDC, over 300,000 older people (65 and older) are hospitalized with hip fractures each year. Women, who are more likely to have osteoporosis after menopause are more likely to have weakened bones that break more easily. Women account for three-quarters of all hip fractures.
Hip fractures can be quite serious and can result in death. According to one report, up to 50 percent of older adults who have broken their hips may end up with a lower quality of life or need ongoing assistance.
Hearing Loss and Dementia
Probably one of the most frightening aspects of hearing loss is the link between diminished hearing and dementia. WebMD reports that when people have trouble hearing, they are more likely to have trouble problem-solving, remembering, and thinking. “In one study, mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss made the odds of dementia 2, 3, and 5 times higher over the following 10-plus years.” Why does this occur? Citing an expert medical professional, Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., from John Hopkins, a combination of three factors might be involved:
- Isolation from hearing loss might result in faster mental decline.
- The brain needs to work hard because sounds aren’t processed as efficiently. This may “take away resources that it could use for other important activities.”
- If you cannot hear as many sounds, your hearing nerves will send fewer signals to the brain, resulting in mental decline.
Some Causes of Hearing Loss
John Hopkins Medicine says there could be a number of causes for hearing loss. Some of them include changes in the inner or middle ear. The nerve pathways to the brain could also change. Other age-related causes for hearing loss include constant exposure to loud noise, loss of sensory receptors in the inner ear (hair cells), the process of aging, side effects from medications including aspirin and certain antibiotics, health condition such as diabetes or heart disease, and the process of aging itself.
While a certain amount of hearing loss could be part of aging, protecting our ears from continuous, loud noises and getting our ears tested periodically could help us maintain better health and well-being.
One study has suggested that diet—particularly one rich in carotenoids, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin (found in foods like squash, carrots, oranges, etc.) and folate (found in legumes, leafy greens, etc.), as well as omega-3 fatty acids (found in seafood and fish), are associated with lower risk of self-reported hearing loss. The longitudinal study, which involved women, showed promising results overall.
While hearing loss currently cannot be reversed, much can be done to improve what we can hear. Personally, I never considered the possibility that I might have some hearing loss. After doing a little reading for this post, I decided that it would be prudent for me to get my ears tested in the near future. Too much is at stake to ignore something as important as hearing. How about you?