As we turn the calendar page to greet a new year, what resolutions are you intending to incorporate into your routine? If you’re seeking a healthier lifestyle, but don’t know where to start, may we suggest bumping hearing health up higher on your priority list?
While so many of us have routine maintenance in our health plans, we often leave out an important annual exam that has loads of impact on our daily functioning. When was the last time you had your hearing checked?
Add A Routine Hearing Exam
Most Americans have regular vision screenings and even a plan for colonoscopies, but leave hearing checks off their list. And yet, it’s an important aspect of our whole health. In a 2021 survey of people in the United States conducted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a majority of respondents cite hearing health as being very important. Almost 70 percent recognized that untreated hearing loss often leads to social isolation and even depression.
And still, only 2 in 10 had undergone a recent hearing test. While you should always schedule a hearing exam immediately if you notice changes in your hearing health, it is important to have your hearing screened every decade until you reach the age of 50. Because age is one of the leading predictors of hearing loss, after you celebrate your fiftieth birthday, consider scheduling a hearing exam every three years.
Hearing loss is notoriously tricky to self-diagnose. The warning signs are subtle and we are adaptable beings. Instead of taking action to confront hearing loss, we often just make slight changes in our behavior, even on a subconscious level, until difficulty communicating becomes unmanageable.
It’s often our friends and family members who notice changes in our behavior first. In ourselves, it is challenging to notice how much more often we say ‘What?’ in conversation or the ways we avoid telephone conversations as speech clarity becomes immensely more inscrutable.
Why putting it off doesn’t help
Most people who eventually choose to intervene with hearing aids have waited an average of ten years. That is an entire decade of vibrant living lost to communication difficulties! In that time, relationships suffer and isolation may set in.
Communication is the foundation of connection and as social creatures, humans need interaction with other people in both large and small doses. As chatting with folks or spending quality time with others becomes more difficult due to hearing loss, we often avoid social situations because it’s simply the easier route.
The fact is that hearing loss is both irreversible and in most cases, progressive, which means that it gets worse over time. Intervening before you hit rock bottom can lead to a higher degree of socialization and improved relationships, more confidence at work, and even better wages.
What’s more, by intervening early, you might be able to preserve some of your hearing and lower your risk of dementia.
Hearing & Your Brain
The way we hear is dependent upon sensitive cells of the inner ear that gather noise from the external world and transmit it to the brain as sound information. Over time, due to excessive noise or the natural aging process, these cells can decline. They are no longer able to receive the full spectrum of sound from the world and the result is that our brain simply gets less sound to process.
Because of neuroplasticity, our brains are designed to reorganize themselves when new scenarios are present. When less sound information is delivered, they stop ‘looking’ for it. What that means is that even if you deliver more sound to the ear via hearing aids, for example, if long periods of time have elapsed for the brain to be present to those sounds, they may no longer have the ability to hear them once they’re present again.
Moreover, this reorganization might even be one of the reasons that hearing loss is so strongly linked with increased risk of dementia. While we don’t know exactly why it happens, neuroplasticity has been posited as a leading theory. We do know that intervening in existing hearing loss can reduce your risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Schedule a hearing test today
If you think your hearing behaviors have changed recently, schedule a hearing test today. For those of you who just want to begin to shuffle regular hearing exams into your health maintenance routine, make an appointment in the next few months.
Hearing exams are painless and easy, led by our team of hearing health professionals. Together, we’ll discuss any possible interventions that might add vibrancy and ease into your life, or design a plan for healthier hearing in the coming decades.