What’s the number one complaint audiologists hear from their new patients with hearing loss? “I can hear, I always know that someone is talking, but I can’t always understand what they are saying.” If this is what you or a family member is experiencing, you may have hearing loss. Hearing loss is a common condition and there are many important reasons to be sure you and those you love are hearing well.
Good hearing keeps us connected to those we love. Hearing is also important for brain health. Did you know that untreated hearing loss can increase your risk of developing cognitive impairment by as much as 30 to 40 percent? According to the Lancet Commission on dementia, midlife intervention for hearing loss is the single most effective action for dementia risk reduction.
Although it is the ear that perceives sound, it is the brain that is responsible for processing the sound and assigning meaning. Hearing loss creates distortion of sounds so that we need to use more cognitive resources and work harder to figure out what the person is saying. Many people living with hearing loss are exhausted at the end of the day because of the effort needed to hear and understand. The coordinated functions of the ear and the brain place a new emphasis on addressing hearing loss. We have known for a long time that using well-fit hearing aids can reduce depression and social isolation, both of which are factors that contribute to cognitive decline.
Hearing loss is invisible and usually happens gradually. Often others may notice it before you do. You may find yourself avoiding social situations or public places you once enjoyed because hearing and interacting with others is too difficult. I recently met a woman who had withdrawn from virtually all social interactions and her children were very worried about her. When she was fit with hearing aids, she gave a big smile and her daughters turned to each other and said “Today is the day we get our Mom back!”
Family members, friends, and work colleagues may get frustrated and feel you aren’t listening to them when they speak to you. Your spouse may accuse you of having “selective hearing.” You may accuse others of mumbling. Or you may answer questions inappropriately and miss the punch lines of jokes. People often admit that they ‘fake it” and resort to smiling and nodding when someone speaks, when in fact, they do not understand what was said. This can be unnecessarily stressful for everyone!
There are many reasons to make sure you and those you love are hearing well in 2021. Untreated hearing loss can take a toll on relationships, careers, and your daily life. Early identification and treatment of hearing loss can also help to maintain cognitive function.
Audiologist Dr. Joan McCormack is the owner and director of Atlantic Hearing Care with offices in Swampscott and Peabody. For more information, visit atlantichearingcare.com or call 781-581-1500.