Hearing is Complex
Knowledge is Power
Do Nothing... Not a Good Choice
Research has demonstrated the considerable negative social, psychological, cognitive and health effects of untreated hearing loss...with far-reaching implications that go well beyond hearing alone. Studies have linked untreated hearing loss to:
- fatigue, tension, stress and depression
- avoidance, or withdrawal from social situations
- social rejection and loneliness
- reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
- impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
- reduced job performance and earning power
- diminished psychological and overall health
- Hearing loss is not just an ailment of old age. It can strike at any time and at any age, even childhood. For the young, even a mild or moderate case of hearing loss could bring difficulty in learning, developing speech and building the important interpersonal skills necessary to foster self-esteem and succeed in school and life.
Evidence from the National Health & Nutrition Examination Surveys has found a much greater incidence of hearing loss in people with diabetes as compared to the non-diabetic population. Twenty-one percent of persons with diabetes were found to also have a hearing loss, compared to 9% of those without diabetes.
With increased numbers of diabetes in both children and adults, a comprehensive health assessment should include a hearing test as part of routine medical management. Diabetes may lead to hearing loss by damaging the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear.
Cochlear blood flow may affect the availability of oxygen and glucose that is metabolized by the organ of Corti during sound stimulation. If the blood supply is restricted, the cochlea and central auditory pathways can be deprived of vital nutrition needed to maintain their health and function.
Tobacco use has been demonstrated in studies to increase the risk of developing hearing loss with age versus those who do not smoke by a 70% greater risk! Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke during the first 3 years are at double the risk for frequent middle-ear infections.
Auditory Deprivation, Dementia & Alzheimers
Hearing loss is independently associated with incident all-cause dementia. Age related hearing loss is related with poorer cognitive functioning compared to those with normal hearing. Patients with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss had a 2-3-, and 5-fold increase of risk in developing dementia. While the specific mechanisms with this association are unknown at this time there is theory that cortical processing, increasing cognitive load and social isolation play a factor in the health and functioning of older adults. With the use of hearing aids speech recognition ability in noise and speech-related cognitive function in adults with hearing impairment is improved.
Depression can affect anyone at any age but 15 out of every 100 adults over the age of 65 in the United States reported feeling depressed. The National Council on Aging found that older adults who suffer from untreated hearing loss were more likely to report feelings of depression and anxiety than those whose hearing loss had been treated. When unable to hear or understand what is being said in social situations and conversations many people feel isolated from their family and friends.
Hearing Loss & Falls
There is investigation that shows strong association and a risk factor of hearing loss and incident falls. The pathways that may explain this association include cochlear and vestibular dysfunction, poor awareness of the auditory and spatial environment or mediation of hearing loss on cognitive load and shared attention. The magnitude of the association of hearing loss with falls is clinically significant going from normal to mild hearing loss being associated with a nearly 3 fold increased odds of reporting a fall over the preceding year.
Speech Comprehension - Undiagnosed & Untreated
Age related hearing loss includes four major auditory functions including hearing, listening, comprehending and communicating. The peripheral auditory system, central auditory system and cognitive functions change over time. Age related hearing loss is associated with adverse effects on the quality of life with perceived severe handicaps of people with only mild to moderate hearing loss.
The age related hearing loss is undetected and often ignored or neglected due to the slow progression of the condition. There are only 20% of this group who obtain help with only 11% owning hearing aids and 24% of those never wearing the aids. We need to put our growing body of knowledge to practice in rehabilitation with the fitting of hearing devices that will improve communication and overall quality of life. There are 31.5 million Americans who have a hearing loss with 2 out of 3 being below retirement age. The primary care physician screens only 13% of those during a physical examination.
It affects more than 50 million people in the United States. For most it is annoying although not intrusive. Some 12 million have chronic symptoms with 2 million of those experiencing severe and highly disturbing tinnitus. Many individuals are seeking answers and relief. Causes are numerous with the most common cause being exposure to excessively loud noise with a single intense event or long term exposure.
Medical conditions such as vascular disorder, hypertension, thyroid disease, acoustic neuroma, tempomandibular jaw disorder, ear infection, impacted cerumen, multiple sclerosis, an aneurysm, and nutritional deficiency may present for a small percentage of tinnitus symptoms.
Approximately 70% of tinnitus patients have hearing loss. No matter the cause of the tinnitus a comprehensive hearing assessment should be conducted to rule out a hearing loss as a contributing factor. The audiologist may be able to assist in developing a treatment plan that could include a sound therapy tool such as the Widex “Zen” Program.
The Zen relaxation program plays random harmonic chimes and tones that generate soothing sounds to assist in relaxing patient and distracting their attention away from tinnitus. The technology provides relaxing music as a sound therapy tool that can be tailored to suit individual preferences and may be used in conjunction with hearing aids.
Prescription and over the counter drugs can cause or exacerbate tinnitus. (Over 200 drugs listed in the PDR site tinnitus as a side effect). In some cases the tinnitus will lessen or disappear when the offending drug is discontinued. Medical review of medications is recommended by a physician to determine potential tinnitus side effects. Because tinnitus may be symptomatic of a treatable disease, it is important to try to identify and resolve a cause before deciding on a management approach