Healthy Hearing As We Age

March 16, 2016  
Filed under Health & Wellness


By Karen Sturtevant
The ability to hear and hear well is a key component in a fulfilling life. Imagine not being able to converse with your grandchildren because you can’t understand them, or constantly having to ask your friends to repeat what they said. Getting your hearing checked regularly  an help you not only to hear better but new research indicates it can also stave off other debilitating conditions, including dementia. “Age related hearing loss is medically termed presbycusis. It’s one of the most common conditions that affect older adults,” said Dr. Marcia  Dion, owner of Vermont Audiology in Montpelier. “Roughly one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have hearing loss and that number grows to nearly 50 percent of those older than 75. The loss is most often due to changes that take place in the inner ear as we age and it is known as a sensorineural or nerve type loss. The decline in acuity is related to a loss of hair cells or sensory receptors in the inner ear.” A newborn infant with full auditory capabilities has approximately 15,000 hair cells per ear, which will naturally decrease with age. Some suffer hearing loss more severely than others due to long-term exposure to excessive noise, their genetic blueprint, aging and being exposed to certain drugs. But, all hearing loss is not equal. “The higher frequency, softer sounds of speech (‘th,’ ‘sh,’ ‘f ’ and ‘v’ sounds) are the most critical to the clarity of words,” said Dr. Keith Walsh of Adirondack Audiology Associates in Colchester. “If you can’t hear these sounds, you won’t be sure of what you heard. It’s not an issue of turning up the volume. You may not have hearing loss at all  frequencies.” “When hearing declines naturally, we typically lose the ability to hear the high-pitched sounds first,” added Dr. Julie Bier of Better Living Audiology in South Burlington. “These are the sounds that provide us with speech clarity, so many patients will report that they can ‘hear’ just fine, but that they have difficulty ‘understanding,’ especially in the presence of background noise.” The good news is 21st century technology used in hearing amplification has never been better or more targeted. “The newer technologies are making 250  billion calculations per second at all kinds of levels. These devices do not simply turn up the volume, but have a prescriptive-type of fit so the response to the technology is accurate to the amount of loss you have,” said Dr. Walsh. Hearing amplification devices are solutions  targeted to conditions pecific diagnoses. What was once perceived as mumbling, is now real words with real meaning. Background noise is where it should be––in the background, while your companion or grandchildren take center stage Hearing loss tied to other health issues Dr. Dion noted, “One thing I would want older people to be aware of is the strong link between hearing loss and dementia. Many studies are now showing that brain tissue loss happens faster in older adults with hearing loss than those with normal hearing. For  any people, hearing aids can provide the sound stimulation needed for the brain to react to sounds that it may have previously been missing. This in turn will give the brain an opportunity to process that information correctly. Ultimately, treating hearing loss sooner rather than later is beneficial in order to keep these cognitive functions firing. Addressing hearing issues early on could make a big difference in promoting healthy hearing––for all ages.” Treating hearing issues as early as possible can also help prevent other health-related  and social issues. “Untreated hearing loss has been linked to other health problems including cognitive decline, dementia and an increased risk of falls,” Dr. Bier advised. “Adults with just a mild hearing loss are two times more likely to develop dementia, according to recent  research. Untreated hearing loss can also lead to social isolation, depression and anxiety.” She also stressed the importance of a baseline hearing check-up.“It’s important for anyone over the age of 50 to have a baseline hearing evaluation by an audiologist, which is invaluable as a reference to chart any future hearing loss,” Dr. Bier said. “If a hearing evaluation identifies hearing loss, and hearing instruments are recommended, it’s important to begin treatment as soon as possible. Hearing loss reduces stimulation to the ears and brain, and over time can actually impair the brain’s ability to process sound and recognize speech. By treating hearing loss with hearing instruments, you are providing the brain with the auditory stimulation it needs to be healthy and active.” Dr. Bier noted that when seeking treatment, ask your health care provider about his or her credentials. Hearing instrument specialists are not the same as audiologists, she said. “Audiologists… should have a Doctorate degree and are professionals trained in the science of hearing. This includes administering precise tests that assess the nature and characteristics of your unique hearing loss.” We are living longer than our parents, we want our days to be active and our circles to be social. Proper nutrition, regular exercise and routine hearing exams will benefit our minds and bodies. We may not have the superhero hearing we did when we were younger, but the technological advances are for our advantage to be used now. If you are struggling with hearing challenges, you don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed – help is available. The most important thing is
to seek professional advice–– your ears and your loved ones will thank you.


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