First you notice the TV is turned up just a little too loud. Then you notice you are having to constantly repeat yourself. And then you realize your loved one is reducing his or her time talking to family and friends.
It might be a hard conversation to have, but when your relationship with a loved one is being affected by hearing loss, you must speak up – quite literally.
And why should you take it so seriously? Because it becomes a safety concern if, for example, they weren’t able to hear a smoke alarm or someone knocking at their door.
Dr. Lori Roses, an audiologist with Palmetto Primary Care Physicians, said that hearing loss can affect everyone around you.
“It’s important to get checked if you think you are experiencing hearing loss because there are options,” she said. “You don’t have to suffer.”
She added that hearing loss could be a sign of something more serious, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes. And, of course, hearing loss can lead to emotional conditions like depression because the person will withdraw from social situations.
“There have also been studies that hearing loss can increase the chances of or speed up the effects of dementia in older individuals,” she explained.
Dr. Roses also noted that, on average, people suffer with hearing loss for about 10 years before seeking help.
“The longer you wait to get help, the harder it will be to treat,” she cautioned.
The reason hearing loss can be harder to treat if you do not catch it early is that the brain will reprogram to a lower source of hearing. When a hearing aid is introduced, it may take longer for the brain to adjust. Just like with untreated hearing loss being linked to an increased chance for dementia – there is cognitive overload on the brain when you can’t hear as well because your brain is working on overtime to understand what people are saying. That cognitive overload can actually lead to other issues with gait and balance, therefore increasing the chance of a fall.
“Your auditory system has been deprived for so long,” Dr.Roses said. “It will take some time for it to adjust.”
She said it is also important to protect what hearing you have left, even if it is a small amount.
“People who had jobs before retirement that exposed them to loud noises should wear hearing protection when doing things like mowing the lawn,” she said.
Dr. Roses said hearing aids will not cure hearing loss but will aid and enhance the hearing a person has left.
At a hearing test, Dr. Roses said the audiologist will first check to see that there isn’t any blockage. She said the patient is placed in a soundproof booth with headphones on and will have to identify a series of tones. Speech discrimination tests are given to test the patient’s comprehension of speech sounds. It’s painless and takes less than an hour.
She mentioned that many people think a hearing aid should be set on a loud level, but that is not always true.
“Louder does not mean clearer,” she said. “Sometimes just speaking slower is better.”
She also said that many older individuals believe that some hearing loss is normal and that is why they wait so long to get help.
“Don’t wait,” she warned. “Some people never experience hearing loss, so don’t just live with the fact that you have lost your hearing because you think it is a normal sign of aging.”
Another misconception is that hearing loss only affects seniors.
“That is also not true,” she said. “Hearing loss can affect all ages. It actually affects 65 percent of people under age 65.”
Her suggestion for bringing up this subject with a family member or friend that you think may be experiencing hearing loss is to offer to go with them to get your hearing checked as well.
“It never hurts to get a hearing test, even if you don’t think you are having problems,” she concluded. “It’s an important part of everyday life that needs to be protected.”