People living with untreated hearing loss could be experiencing accelerated cognitive decline, social isolation and depression symptoms – all of which could be improved with the use of a hearing aid.
Nicole Bowden, senior audiologist from Victorian Hearing, works with people who have complex hearing loss.
“On average it takes someone seven years to do something about hearing loss. Generally our hearing gradually declines and most people are in denial – grumbling about other people mumbling; turning the TV up and putting other strategies in place to deal with it,” Ms Bowden said.
“Hearing loss becomes a struggle throughout the day which leads to fatigue. People start avoiding situations and activities because they can’t understand what is said, so can feel isolated.
“Research has shown that the earlier you do something about hearing loss, i.e. seek medical treatment or hearing aids, the better.
“Getting a hearing aid stimulates that auditory nerve, keeps it active, keeps it healthy and keeps your brain active. Research shows they keep cognitive decline at bay,” she said.
Ms Bowden said there were more links emerging between hearing loss and other general health issues including cardiac issues, diabetes, some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, different medications such as strong antibiotics.
Isolation-associated depression has also been connected with untreated hearing loss. This means people need to seek treatment earlier if they notice a change in their hearing.
How do we hear? How do we lose hearing?
The pinna is the outer ear which funnels sound waves into the ear canal towards the ear drum. The three bones in the middle ear then vibrate. This mechanical signal is then converted into an electrical signal in the inner ear which sends the sound along the auditory nerve to the brain to be processed.
The most common reasons for hearing loss vary from being age-related – we begin to lose our hearing naturally from about age 50; family or hereditary reasons; a virus; fluid in the middle ear or as simple as a wax occlusion.
“Generally if there is anything wrong in the middle ear space it can be treated medically or surgically by a GP or ear, nose and throat specialist," Mrs Bowden said.
"For example, this could be a middle ear infection or fluid, or a hereditary condition called otosclerosis where one of the middle ear bone becomes fused and stops vibrating.
“When we do the hearing test we can tell which part of the ear is affected.
“With neural hearing loss the current availability of surgery and medication does not help but a hearing aid may assist; the effectiveness of which can be ascertained during a hearing test,” she said.
While no hearing aid will bring hearing back to normal, Ms Bowden said that usually 100 per cent of hearing range (or volume) can be achieved, which is where a person’s brain needs to do the work to process the sound into information.
Listening strategies in public situations
When receiving new hearing aids patients are provided with a rehabilitation program which includes acclimatisation to their aids and the learning of listening strategies.
This information is helpful for both those who wear hearing aids, and those who spend time with people with hearing loss.
- When in a restaurant sit with your back against the wall to avoid having background noise behind you.
- Always look at people when they’re speaking to you so you can also receive visual cues.
- Listen to the context of the conversation to get those cues, and adequate lighting makes it easier to understand someone’s visual cues.
- The acoustics of a room can make a big difference – hard surfaces like floorboards, tiles and glass windows makes the sound echo as opposed to carpet, rugs and curtains which absorb the sound and make it easier to hear.
If you think you or a loved one might need a hearing check, you can go to your local, independent and Australian owned hearing care specialists or phone 1300 736 995.
For more information visit HealthShare, a joint venture with Fairfax to improve the health of regional Australians. Or you can find a specialist near you using the health tool below.