Hearing Loss And Its Effects
How Common Is Hearing Loss?
It is estimated that 1 in 6 Australians is affected by some degree of hearing loss. That figure is set to increase to 1 in 4 by 2050. The prevalence of hearing loss increases with each decade of life, particularly after the age of 50.
About 50 percent of people between the age of 50 and 70 have hearing loss. This number increases to over 70 percent for people over the age of 70, and to 80 percent for people over the age of 80.
How Hearing Loss Affects You And Others
Hearing loss has very real implications for a person’s connection with family and society at large. It can lead to frustration, isolation, embarrassment and depression. People with hearing loss are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to their age-related peers. Hearing loss is often referred to as a shared problem, as it can put strain on family and workplace relationships. Large scale studies have also linked untreated hearing loss to increased risk for cognitive decline (e.g. dementia) and brain atrophy (loss of brain mass). In summary hearing loss has the ability to reduce quality of life on a number of fronts.
The Insidious Nature Of Hearing Loss
In most cases hearing loss develops very gradually over time, making it harder for individuals to recognize the onset of a hearing problem. Remarks from family and friends are often the first indication that something is wrong. Common signs of hearing loss include the following changes:
- voices sound indistinct and difficult to understand
- television volume is set higher than others prefer
- loud sounds become distorted and may even cause pain
- background noise increasingly interferes with conversation
- withdrawal from social events due to added concentration required to hear
- ringing or buzzing noises in the ears or head become more noticeable
- difficulty telling where sounds are coming from
Seeking Help If You Suspect A Hearing Loss
If you or a family member are noticing some of the above changes in hearing ability, it is wise to seek an Audiologist’s advice. Audiologists are university trained professionals with expertise in the diagnosis and rehabilitation of hearing loss. They must belong to a professional body and abide by a professional code of conduct. Not all degrees of hearing loss require the immediate fitting of a hearing aid. Sometimes it is a valuable exercise to measure a baseline of hearing to track any changes over time. A hearing assessment can also identify a need for medical treatment. Paying for a proper consultation rather than seeking out a free offer will ensure you receive correct advice to benefit you.
Some Common Causes Of Hearing Loss
Common causes of hearing loss include:
- Noise exposure, from work and recreational activities
- The effects of aging, including poor cardio-vascular health, diabetes and smoking
- Disease processes, including genetic and acquired conditions
- Lifestyle factors, including poor diet and lack of physical exercise
- Injury and trauma, including head trauma and stroke
Different Types Of Hearing Loss = Different Effects
No all forms of hearing loss are equal. Some benefit more from hearing aids, while others may respond to medical treatment. The exact effects depend on what part of the hearing mechanism is affected.
Sensori-neural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss and results from damage to the delicate cochlear structures within the inner ear. It may also involve a degeneration of the auditory nerve pathways between the ear and the brain. Most forms of sensori-neural hearing loss are permanent in nature and are typically associated with aging and noise exposure. A hallmark of sensori-neural hearing loss is distortion and loudness intolerance. The quality of the auditory signal is reduced along with the volume, because the receptor cells for hearing no longer respond properly to incoming sounds. People with sensori-neural impairment also report increased difficulty concentrating in background noise, because these same cochlear receptor cells no longer respond properly to brain commands.
Sensori-Neural Pathology And Hearing Aids
For sensori-neural impairments, hearing aid benefit varies depending on the degree and the exact mix of cochlear versus nerve pathway damage. Most individuals with this form of hearing loss will gain significant benefit from the amplified signal from hearing aids in many but not all situations. Perseverance and regular use of hearing aids will help to maximize benefit by encouraging the auditory system to adapt over time. Sporadic hearing aid use usually produces poor results for people with sensori-neural hearing loss. A cochlear implant is sometimes needed for severe cases of sensori-neural hearing loss where hearing aids provide little or no benefit.
Conductive hearing loss is linked to mechanical disruptions to the outer or middle ears. It may result from something as simple as a wax blockage, a head cold or middle ear congestion, or may be related to more serious conditions like a perforated eardrum or middle ear disease (otoslerosis or middle ear tumours). A loss of volume is the main effect of conductive pathology and signal distortion is minimal compared to sensori-neural impairments. In many cases conductive hearing loss may respond to medical intervention, such as drug therapy or surgery.
Conductive Pathology And Hearing Aids
When medical intervention is not appropriate, hearing aids offer an effective resolution for most people with conductive impairments. The benefits tend to be more immediate and over a broader range of situations than for individuals with sensori-neural hearing loss.
As the name suggests, mixed hearing loss stems from a combination of conductive and sensori-neural processes. The benefit from hearing aids will vary depending on the exact location of pathology and degree of deafness. Medical treatment can sometimes address the conductive component in the overall hearing loss, reducing or eliminating the need for hearing aids.
Tips For Communication
When hearing loss occurs, communication becomes less free-flowing and spontaneous. Here are some ways to lessen the impact of a hearing loss, regardless of whether you wear hearing aids or not.
A lot of communication comes from visual cues from lip formations and facial expressions.
Get Eachother’s Attention First
Taking that moment to get the listener’s attention will save the frustration of having to repeat things later. Avoid talking while walking away or from another room.
Lessen Expectations in Background Noise
Interference from competing sounds, (dishwasher, television, crowds) is particularly severe for individuals with hearing loss.
Speak Slower, Not Louder
Moderate paced speech allows time for the hearing impaired person to better process information and reduces the need for repeats.
Re-phrase Where Needed
If not understood the first or second time, rephrasing may hit on a combination of phonemes more intelligible to the hearing impaired listener’s ear.
None of us perform at our best under stress. Showing patience will maximize your chances of being understood.
Remember, hearing loss is a shared problem, requiring a shared solution. Just because you or a family member wear hearing aids does not negate the need for good communication habits.