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Typically, hearing loss is a very slow and gradual process; one in which the listener may not even realize a hearing loss is present. You may be asking yourself: “how do people just not notice that they can’t hear?” The truth is that thebrain learns to adapt to small changes so quickly that it learns to compensate for the loss over time. Because of this ability, most people do not even realize how many sounds they are missing in their environment!
One of the biggest signs that someone may have a hearing loss is constantly asking for repetition in a conversation or blaming others for “mumbling” or not speaking clearly enough. This symptom of hearing loss is one of the most detrimental. Constantly asking for repetition is frustrating for everyone involved in a conversation and can lead to one of two things: (1) The person may stop asking for repetition all together out of embarrassment and choose to remove themself from the conversation because it’s “not worth it” or (2) Other people begin to cut that person out of conversations so they don’t have to worry about having to repeat themselves. Both situations lead to loneliness, frustration, and isolation for the person with the hearing loss. Social withdrawal and isolation are some of the leading side effects of hearing loss, in addition to diminished cognitive function and poorer mental health. Hearing loss is far more than just “not hearing”; it is a health, safety, and quality of life issue (Lin et al., 2011).
When you are listening to someone speak, your brain is actively working to process the sound being heard so that you can understand it. A listener with an untreated hearing loss is trying to process degraded speech signals. This causes the brain to have to work harder to process those sounds. While the brain is trying to complete this complex task, other cognitive functions such as memory and comprehension can be negatively affected. A study conducted out of John’s Hopkins University Hospital showed that the risk of cognitive decline is 41% greater for those with a hearing loss. Furthermore, people with a mild hearing loss were twice as likely to develop dementia, those with a moderate hearing loss were twice as likely to develop dementia, those with a moderate hearing loss were three times as likely, and those with a severe hearing loss were five times as likely to develop dementia when compared to those with normal hearing (Lin et al., 2013). Studies have also shown actual physical changes to the brain, specifically shrinking of certain areas that are typically stimulated by auditory signals, in individuals that live with an untreated hearing loss as compared those with normal hearing (Lin et al., 2014).
Hearing aids help process incoming sound, making it easier for your brain to understand them. Additional benefits of hearing aids include reduced mental fatigue, decreased feelings of social isolation and depression, improved ability to do several things at once, improved memory, attention, and focus, as well as improved communication skills. While hearing aids are the most optimal option for treating those with hearing loss, hearing aids are not necessarily the best option for everyone. There are many options out there that can help remediate communication difficulties and assist in slowing down the development or progression of dementia. If you or someone you know is struggling with hearing or experiencing any ear related issues, please visit one of ENT and Allergy Associates’ many locations across New York and New Jersey. We will be sure to find the best solution for you and your needs! Don’t wait until it’s too late!
Lin, F. R., Metter, E. J., O’Brien, R. J., Resnick, S. M., Zonderman,
A. B., & Ferrucci, L. (2011). Hearing loss and incident dementia. Archives of Neurology, 68(2). doi:10.1001/archneurol.2010.362
Lin, F. R., Yaffe, K., Xia, J., Xue, Q. –L., Harris, T. B., Purchase-Helzner, E. … Simosnsick, E. M. (2013). Hearing loss and cognitive decline among older adults. JAMA Intern Med, 173(4). doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.1868
Lin, F. R., Ferrucci, L., An, Y., Goh, J. O., Doshi, J., Metter, E. J., … & Resnick, S. M. (2014). Association of hearing impairment with brain volume changes in older adults. NeuralImage, 90, 84-92. doi:10.1016/j.neuralimage.2013.12.05