Once thought to be an inconvenient but natural part of aging, hearing loss is now known as a risk factor for other troubling health issues like dementia and depression. With these and other health problems at stake, treating hearing loss can make a difference. And since about 36 million Americans of all ages face some level of hearing loss, those treatments like hearing aids aren’t just for the elderly anymore.
The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Health
Those with hearing loss also lose brain tissue, and their concentration and memory abilities dwindle, according to a 2014 Johns Hopkins University study. This most-recent research is added to a growing list of studies that points to a connection between hearing loss and a variety of health problems, including increased falls, escalating hospitalizations and mental health issues. For instance, researchers in 2011 found that those with hearing loss suffered nearly twice the incidence of depression than those with normal hearing.
Steps to Avoiding Hearing Loss Consequences
Preventing hearing loss altogether is always a good goal, and there are several steps you can take today to reduce your chance of suffering damage. If you work in an area exposed to continuous or loud noises like those found in a factory, wear hearing protection. Even those who work with lawn mowers or leaf blowers, ride motorcycles or use machinery frequently should be mindful to wear earplugs or ear muffs. Keep music and television sound to a moderate level. Quit smoking and, if possible, avoid medications that can cause hearing damage.
If you suspect that your hearing is reduced, have your hearing tested. The likelihood of hearing loss increases as you age, especially over the age of 65. And even though the risks are higher for seniors, teenagers and young adults are at risk too. Nearly 20 percent of all 12-to-19-year-olds suffer hearing loss, according to a 2010 Brigham and Women’s Hospital study.
If your test shows hearing loss, take action. Although researchers aren’t quite sure whether mental and physical decline occurs before or after hearing loss begins, they are quick to suggest early intervention. Researchers and health advocates recommend using hearing aids or other assistive devices for mild and moderate hearing loss.
New Generation Hearing Solutions
Luckily, today’s hearing aids offer plenty of options, from small devices inserted in the ear canal to discreet aids that tuck behind the ear. The innovations continue to come from companies like Miracle-Ear, Inc. that blend convenience of use with digital technology. Audiologists and hearing aid technicians can customize things like noise reduction, sound processing and comfort using the hearing aid’s software, leaving the device itself untouched. And there are even hearing aids that connect to smart phones and other Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices to broadcast phone calls, audio GPS driving directions and music directly to the hearing aid.
Hearing loss doesn’t have to make you feel disconnected from life or the people around you, and you may even be able to prevent other health problems with their use. As researchers continue to explore whether hearing aids and other interventions can prevent associated dementia, depression and other health consequences, the devices are already well-known to help improve your quality of life.