Hearing connects us to the world, our family, friends, surroundings, sounds and music. Most hearing loss occurs so gradually and can go unrecognized - perhaps the volume on the TV is increased; words are misunderstood; questions are answered incorrectly; or hearing in a noisy room becomes a struggle. As the hearing loss increases, so does the difficulty communicating.
When untreated, the loss of hearing can cause stress, isolation, depression, impaired memory, diminished health, falls, reduced job performance and alertness. In addition, recent studies have noted that untreated hearing loss is associated with the development of and increased severity of dementia.
Findings by Frank Lin, M.D., at Johns Hopkins University, suggest that hearing loss may play a much more important role in brain health than we've previously thought. Lin is the author of several recent studies pointing to a link between hearing and cognitive problems ranging from mild impairment all the way to dementia. A mild to severe hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia from two times to five times if untreated.
This may be caused by the excess effort and stress required to "fill in the blanks" with what is not heard to help understand. Other factors may be that loss of hearing causes a lack of stimulation in certain structures of brain. Without stimulation, the structures can shrink. We also know that not being able to hear well will cause isolation as people avoid socializing in restaurants or where they struggle to hear. These are all risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia. Of course, the presence of a hearing loss does not mean dementia is inevitable; however, the research indicates there is an increased risk.
The studies also raise the possibility that treating hearing loss can help keep the brain active, ease the stress of hearing in difficult listening situations and reduce social isolation. Initial research is suggesting that treating the hearing loss early can and does improve cognition. Many do not realize that it is their hearing loss that causes a need for repetition and increased volume on the television. They are not conscious of what they are missing. It is recommended to have a baseline hearing test if you or someone you know has difficulty hearing, others complain that you cannot hear, or you have trouble understanding in noisy environments.
Once evaluated, your audiologist can recommend a personalized treatment plan based upon your hearing test, your lifestyle and your needs. The treatment of the hearing loss most often involves hearing aids. The good news is that 93 percent of people wearing hearing aids report an improvement in their quality of life, including personal relationships, self-esteem and life overall. It is important to note that hearing aids are a process. They involve custom fitting, prescriptive programming, adjustments and fine-tuning. Be patient: It took years to gradually lose your hearing, it will take some time for your ear and brain to acclimate to hearing again.
Joanne LaPorta is the owner and audiologist at Accent on Hearing, 1189 S. Perry Street, Suite 120, Castle Rock, 303-663-2235. Please join the Senior Council of Douglas County at 10:15 a.m. Nov. 2 at the Parker Library, 20105 E. Mainstreet in Parker, to learn more about this subject. There will also be an opportunity to speak out about senior needs in Douglas County during the Community Conversation portion of the meeting. Questions? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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