When people start to not hear as well as they used to, most don’t do anything because they think it’s normal considering they’ve gotten older – a condition known as presbycusis. But hearing loss can strike at any age and can be caused by many other factors such as infections and head trauma. Being exposed to loud noises such as loud music for a long time can damage the inner ear resulting in hearing loss.
The general perception is that it is only an auditory problem and life can go on as usual. While this can certainly be the case, ignoring the issue for years before getting treatment is not a good idea.
Studies have shown that hearing deterioration actually affects a person physical as much as mentally. Depression, stress, reduced alertness, diminished memory, and negativism are just a few possible consequences.
One in three Americans between 65 and 74 experience hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. It’s actually the third most common chronic problem of senior citizens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say 12.5 percent of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17 percent of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise.
The ears play key part in people keeping balance – sounds help people maintain it. So naturally, if you don’t hear well, you are putting yourself at risk of falling. In fact, a study says that you’re three times more likely to fall even if you have a mild hearing problem.
The arteries harden or narrow when a person has a heart illness. That restricts the blood flow, including to the cochlea, which is the organ in the inner ear that translates sound into nerve impulses to be sent to the brain. If it’s doesn’t get enough oxygen through the blood, it doesn’t work properly; hence we don’t hear well. That’s also why hearing deterioration can be a sign of a heart problem.
A 2011 study has linked hearing loss to dementia in older adults. People who don’t hear well are twice as likely to develop the condition. Those who have a severe hearing problem are five time more likely. Also, when people don’t hear well, they tend to feel embarrassed and stay away from social activities. However, not communicating with other people can contribute to dementia.
Research has linked hearing loss with brain shrinkage. Even though that happens as people age, atrophy is bigger by one cubic centimeter per year among people with mild hearing problems. As expected, the reduction is mostly in the parts of the brain responsible for speech, balance and memory.
People with sickle-cell anemia get tired easily. The exhaustion and the pain they experience are caused by distorted red blood cells. They, too, restrict the blood flow. That means that not enough oxygen gets to the cochlea.
If you have to speak louder to other people or if you develop a ringing in your ears, consider that you may have a mild hearing problem. The Hearing Health Foundation has a self-assessment form to help you determine if you may have hearing loss.
Do you have a problem hearing over the telephone?
Do you have difficulty following a conversation when two or more people are speaking?
Do people complain that you turn the TV volume up too high?
Do you have to strain to understand conversation?
Do you have trouble hearing in a noisy background?
Do you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves?
Do many people you talk to seem to mumble?
Do you misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately?
Do you have trouble understanding the speech of women and children?
Do people get annoyed because you misunderstand what they say?