Hearing loss isn’t just an ear issue. It’s a quality of life and health issue but, thankfully, one that’s treatable.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
The leading cause of hearing loss is aging. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is second, followed by disease, genetics, injury or biology. NIHL occurs after exposure to a loud impulse sound like an explosion, or after prolonged exposure to high levels of sound greater than 85 decibels.
Prevention and Risk Factors
While you can’t prevent aging, you can take steps to prevent NIHL. Experts recommend paying close attention to the noise level of your environment. One should avoid or limit exposure to loud sounds and wear hearing protection when possible.
Additional risk factors you can control that contribute to hearing loss include:
- Sleep apnea
- Infections that damage the inner ear
- Viruses that damage the inner ear
- Poor circulation
- High blood pressure
Physical, occupational and speech therapy along with surgery can be used to treat hearing loss; however, hearing aids are the most common solution. The Better Hearing Institute says 95 percent of Americans with hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids.
Individuals who treat their hearing loss early have reduced mental fatigue, decreased feelings of social isolation and depression, improved ability to do several things at once, improved memory, attention, and focus, as well as improved communication skills.
Risks of Untreated Hearing Loss
Untreated hearing loss can have serious emotional, social and health consequences. A decrease in hearing sensitivity can be associated with diminished cognitive function, poorer mental health, and social withdrawal.
Seniors with untreated hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia over time than people who keep their hearing.
Help Your Loved One with their Hearing Loss
Hearing loss affects more than just the person experiencing the loss. Spouses, co-workers, and children can grow frustrated when communication breakdowns occur.
If you want to talk to your loved one about their condition, start by telling them what you notice (it’s always too loud for you to hear, you think everyone is mumbling, etc.). Normalize that hearing loss affects a lot of people and gets more common with age. Remind your loved one that tests are quick and painless. You could even offer to schedule a screening for them.
Sometimes talking to a friend or family member with a similar condition makes seeking care less embarrassing. Consider scheduling a meal or activity with people whose lives improved after treatment for hearing loss. Then let it go for a while. They are the decision-maker on when and if to seek care for hearing loss and bringing it up all the time won’t make that decision happen any faster. Try to be patient but also prepared for the day they decide it’s time.