In today’s ever changing and demanding society, people are often reminded that one of the most important things they can do for themselves is to take care of their health. This principle becomes increasingly more relevant as we begin to enter our “golden years”, where many seniors may find themselves in a higher risk category for a number of age related health concerns. In general, most of us are quite diligent at scheduling regular check ups with various health care professionals. It’s been ingrained into our minds since we were children that we must attend our bi-annual trips to the dentist to get our teeth cleaned and checked. If you’re like the majority of the population, then you might also get your eyes tested every two years to make sure your glasses are focused accordingly or take your annual trip to the family doctor to make sure any concerns with medications and genuine medical needs are addressed.
One critical aspect of our overall health, which is often left unaddressed by many seniors, is one that could potentially have a very profound impact on their overall quality of life. That area is an individual’s hearing health. Living with a hearing loss is arguably one of the most common challenges that today’s seniors face on a daily basis, and yet strangely, it’s also the one that’s most often overlooked, downplayed, or downright ignored.
The issue for many seniors is that a hearing loss develops so gradually, that people are often not consciously aware it’s even occurring at all. Most of the time, it’s not until those closest to them start to notice they are consistently being asked to repeat themselves, or that a friend or parent seems to be misinterpreting certain words or phrases during conversation, especially in a social setting where there may be other conversations happening around them. Even if individuals do take notice of the developing situation with their hearing, it’s very easy to shift the burden to the speaker.
“I can’t hear my daughter, Carol, much of the time, because all she does is mumble! If she would just speak a little louder and look at me when she wanted my attention, I would have no problem hearing what she was saying!”
Sound familiar? Many of us have friends or loved ones in this situation and while it may be true that Carol is a mumbler, it may also be true that her parent is simply not hearing and interpreting Carol as clearly as they should be. Hearing loss starts to develop in people around the age of 60. Some may experience it sooner and others not until a little later – but eventually, it will affect all of us. Not one human being on the planet is immune to hearing loss. There are several other factors that can also have an impact on hearing, such as exposure to loud noise (perhaps during past employment), trauma (such as an accident or injury), and genetics have a large role to play in how well your hearing will hold up over time.
A common misconception among people is that those who suffer from hearing loss are for the most part deaf, and those who speak to them need to significantly raise their voices in order to be able to convey their message. This could not be further from the truth. Having a hearing loss in no way implies that an individual is deaf. In fact, as with most age related cases, the area of the ear associated with volume and awareness is left very much in tact. Unfortunately, it is the area of the ear responsible for the clarity and definition of speech that is most affected. This is why when you speak to some seniors, many feel that they can hear just fine, as long as the person doesn’t speak too quickly, or there isn’t any noise to interfere with the conversation. How this translates to the person with the hearing loss, is that when they are being spoken to they are receiving the normal volume of the conversation, but within that conversation, the words that they are hearing do not come through distinctly or clearly. To them it does sound like the speaker is mumbling or talking inaudibly even if they are not, because that is how the interaction is perceived.
If left untreated what we tend to see is that eventually, people will stop placing themselves in situations where they know they have the most problems. Typically, these are noisy environments where even those of us blessed with perfect hearing might find ourselves having difficulty. These may be environments such as family gatherings, social events, meetings, hobby groups, or charity fundraisers. It becomes easier for people to simply avoid these activities rather than attend them and have to deal with the embarrassment of constantly having to ask people to repeat themselves. By simply removing themselves from the equation, they can also avoid the personal frustration that comes with this embarrassment.
If you were to attend a meeting, but weren’t able to hear the ideas and suggestions of the chair person, not only would you not be able to contribute your insights to the group, you may come across as unintelligent or inattentive, when asked a question that you can’t answer accurately because you didn’t hear the information. Why would you put yourself in such a self defeating situation? This behaviour continues to compound, until the individual becomes extremely socially isolated. This kind of social isolation has been proven to have a dramatic negative impact on the overall wellbeing of the individual, and can lead to increased cognitive decline, memory loss, and early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s.
While there may be no way that these outcomes can be altogether avoided, research has shown that keeping the brain stimulated over a sustained period of time increases neuroplasticity, which will improve the overall effectiveness of the mind in the long term. The problem is that this kind of stimulation, for some, can be quite difficult, especially if there is an already existing cognitive decline or mobility issue. One of the best ways to achieve this stimulation given limited options, is through the auditory cortex with sound. However, when someone is dealing with a hearing loss, this becomes yet another area to suffer.
The bottom line, is that practicing good hearing health habits is essential to establishing the framework for long term cognitive preservation in our rapidly aging population. Assessing, and if the need requires, correcting a hearing loss before it gets to unmanageable levels, will not only dramatically improve you or your loved one’s immediate quality of life, it will ensure that the brain will maintain the necessary levels of neuroplasticity it requires for optimum functionality. Anyone over the age of 60 should be scheduling annual hearing tests with their local hearing practitioner, just as they would with their dentist, optometrist, or doctor. While hearing tests are not covered by OHIP, most offices offer this service free of charge, so it never hurts to have an assessment done, if for no other reason than to establish a baseline to measure against future hearing loss.
If you have not had your ears tested recently, don’t put it off any longer! Contact your local Hearing Solutions clinic to book an appointment for a hearing test today! Your family, friends, and most importantly your brain will be very happy you did.
Contributor: Clarke Nolan Hearing Instrument Specialist; Hearing Solutions Phone: 416-231-3003 Website: www.hearingsolutions.ca Clarke Nolan is a Hearing Instrument Specialist who has worked within a wide variety of clinical environments, from small private practices to large multinational corporations. He is a passionate healthcare practitioner, who always advocates putting the needs of the patient first and foremost. He has dedicated his career to improving the quality of life of those who suffer from hearing loss and promoting the overall education of hearing health. With a background in psychology, he has a unique perspective on the effects of auditory stimulation with respect to overall cognitive well-being. He believes that the more people understand about the nature of hearing, the better informed they will be when it comes to making decisions on treating any potential hearing issues.