It may not come as a surprise that 25% of retirement-age adults have hearing loss, or that it affects 50% of those over 75. It may surprise you, however that age-related hearing loss can begin in a person’s 40s. A number of factors affect when a person’s hearing loss becomes problematic for them, including diet, genetics, and noise exposure, but it’s difficult to know exactly why and when someone’s hearing ability declines.
Regular Hearing Tests
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) recommends that a person get their hearing tested once a decade until they turn 50, and at least once every three years after that. Catching hearing loss early is the best way to help prevent further hearing loss and to start treatment, to help ward off the effects of long-term untreated hearing loss. These can range from brain atrophy and earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia to social isolation and physical injury, so it’s becoming increasingly apparent that hearing loss is a serious health issue that needs to be addressed when it arises.
Hearing Loss May Be Difficult to Notice
But how do you know if you or someone you care about has hearing loss, short of getting a hearing test? A person will normally notice their own hearing loss through conversation, and sometimes this can take a while. They might think other people are mumbling or that the background noise is too loud. Unless they know someone is speaking to them and they can’t understand what they’re saying, they aren’t aware of the other sounds they’re not hearing.
So it is often someone else who notices a person’s hearing loss before the affected party does. It could be that you notice their radio or television is set to an unusually loud volume, or they don’t respond sometimes when you speak to them. They might ask you to repeat yourself a lot, or they may be less active in group conversations than they used to be.
Early Sign: Background Noises Cause Trouble
The first, best sign that you yourself are suffering from hearing loss will likely come from a conversation in a restaurant or other busy area. When you notice that you have trouble discerning the speech of the person close to you from the music or chatter in the background, that’s a sure sign you have a hearing loss.
Hearing Loss Is Exhausting
You might also notice yourself getting tired sooner during social activities. Hearing loss forces the frontal cortex of the brain to work overtime in trying to decipher what is being said, while it also does its usual work of thinking about what is being said and preparing a response. This tires us out a lot faster than we’re used to. Because hearing loss usually sets in as we age, we might mistake this exhaustion as a separate part of “getting old,” when really if we were to treat our hearing loss we would get along just fine.
When we start getting more tired out by social activities and find ourselves less able to participate in conversations, we tend to withdraw from these things. At first it feels like a simple matter of convenience, but as time passes and we find ourselves with fewer and fewer opportunities for meeting up with friends and family, the effects of social isolation and loneliness begin to set in. New research on social isolation has found that it is as bad for the body as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Hearing Aids Keep Us Feeling Young
Don’t let your hearing loss take you to the point of social isolation and loneliness. People sometimes say they don’t want to get hearing aids because they don’t want to “feel old,” but far from making us old, hearing aids allow us to continue to engage in the activities that keep us feeling young. No matter where you are on the trajectory of hearing loss, if you haven’t had a hearing test lately, go ahead and schedule one to find out how good your hearing is.
If you have some hearing loss, early intervention could lead to diet and/or lifestyle changes that can prevent further loss. New research is constantly being done into the causes and effects of hearing loss, so a regular consultation with our team keeps you in the know about your best practices for preventing hearing loss and your best options for treatment.