By the Audiologists at Midwest Hearing Center
Do you know someone who seems to have trouble hearing? Have you ever known someone who struggles to hear AND does not wear hearing aids? Chances are your answer is yes to both questions. According to a study done by The National Council on Aging, approximately 28 million Americans suffer from some form of hearing loss; 19 million of these are 45 years of age and older. Many of these people wait decades to seek treatment for a hearing loss that should have been treated many years earlier. Some never seek treatment at all.
A large number of people in this group are those with mild hearing loss, who may not even be aware of their hearing problem. People in the mild hearing loss category often attribute their communication difficulties to things such as others mumbling, not speaking up, etc. This phenomenon can be attributed to the fact that most hearing losses emerge very slowly over time, rather than happening all at once. Even a mild hearing loss, however, can cause significant difficulty in communicating with other people in certain situations.
Why People Wait So Long to Get Hearing Help
The path to purchasing hearing aids is riddled with myths and fears. The majority of people with hearing loss never seek help from hearing aids because they believe seeking help will do more harm than good. Sadly, the exact opposite is true. Understanding the facts surrounding hearing loss and hearing aids is the key to breaking down the barriers between people with hearing loss and the hearing aids they need.
Why Not Just “Get By” For Now and Get Hearing Aids Later?
Audiologists who counsel patients with hearing loss daily will tell you that the one of the most common questions in response to the recommendation of treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids is: “Can I get by without hearing aids?”
CAN people with hearing loss “get by” without hearing aids? Of course they can get by, just as a person can get by without glasses if he or she suffers from less-than-perfect vision. But most people would never consider going without glasses. There are some pretty big consequences for those who go without correcting their vision, like not being allowed to drive, for instance. Most people aren’t willing to suffer that consequence. So what about untreated hearing loss? Are there consequences for this? The answer is a resounding, “yes.” There are many consequences, and life-altering ones at that.
Just as it is dangerous for a person with uncorrected vision to drive, it stands to reason that untreated hearing loss can also be tied to safety issues. Unfortunately, many alarms and alerting tones we rely on to keep us or others safe are inaudible to a person with hearing loss. Smoke alarms and the back-up beeps of a truck in reverse are just two examples of alarms that can be missed and lead to injury or even death. Many sounds of danger, such as the sound of a car approaching from behind, are fairly quiet and are not paired with an alerting tone. These sounds are also easily missed by a person with hearing loss. The sound of a person shouting a warning is also frequently missed by those with a hearing loss. Many avoidable accidents can be resolved by simply treating hearing loss.
Untreated hearing loss can lead to communication breakdown. Even a mild hearing loss can lead to missing out on what was said in any given situation, particularly in a situation that includes background noise. This fact has implications both in one’s personal life as well as in the workplace. Hearing loss leads to misunderstandings and missed opportunities for communication that can negatively impact personal relationships, as well as compromised performance at work. Trying to navigate communication with untreated hearing loss is essentially like trying to ride a bike and take notes at the same time. The concentration required for this type of task is difficult and tiring. Although it is true, the more significant the untreated hearing loss the more difficult communication becomes, it is important to recognize that even mild hearing losses pose significant threats to successful communication.
Sadly, untreated hearing loss often results in missed social opportunities, a feeling of being disconnected from friends and family and a diminished earning potential. These experiences can lead to withdrawal and isolation of the affected and can lead to resentment and frustration for all.
Prevent Further Ear Damage
It has been well documented that auditory deprivation (lack of the brain’s exposure to sound) causes a decrease in the brain’s ability to make sense of speech and other sounds. This occurs even in the case of mild hearing loss. Hearing aids can, in effect, stave off this auditory starvation by providing the sounds the brain needs to maintain its ability to process sound.
Psychological and Brain Health
It is clear that hearing loss is closely linked to psychological health. In fact, studies have shown that it is common for people with untreated hearing loss to suffer from depression as a direct result of the frustration, fatigue, loneliness, and communication disconnect they experience. On the flip side, people with a hearing loss that has been addressed and treated are no more likely to suffer from depression than their normal hearing counterparts.
In addition to depression, there is growing evidence to support the link between poor memory and untreated hearing loss. The newest research is even finding some links between untreated hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
Relationships and Health
In addition to combating auditory deprivation, hearing aids allow a person with hearing loss to more fully participate in life. “Getting by” usually means limiting one’s daily activities, which leads to missing out on important events and conversations with friends and loved ones. Helen Keller once said, “When you lose your sight, you lose contact with things. When you lose your hearing, you lose contact with people.” The fact is communication is the key to our relationships. Without it, relationships suffer. Feeling disconnected from friends and family and struggling to communicate at work can lead to anxiety and a feeling of inadequacy.
Researchers from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention have found that older adults with hearing loss are more likely than those with normal hearing to suffer hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Untreated hearing loss can also affect the health of the spouse of the hearing impaired person. When hearing loss causes a person to withdraw and become depressed, the spouse of that person often becomes angry, frustrated and depressed in response.
Getting By is Not Good Enough
Clearly “getting by” is not good enough. Going without hearing aids does not just mean missing a word here or there. It goes much deeper than that, threatening personal well-being and relationships, and it can increase the risk of other major health issues. Understanding these negative implications is critical in the process of acceptance of hearing loss. Once acceptance has been reached, the journey toward treatment of the hearing loss can truly begin. It would never be considered acceptable to leave a child with hearing loss untreated. The repercussions of doing so are just too great. Bearing this in mind, our standard of care for adults with hearing loss needs to be the same. With increased public awareness of the serious consequences of untreated hearing loss, both individuals and our society as a whole can move toward embracing the treatment of hearing loss. The benefits of treatment for all individuals with hearing loss would most likely far exceed our greatest expectations. At Midwest Hearing Center we test hearing and provide information regarding hearing loss treatment as well as prevention.
Taking the First Step
If you suffer from untreated hearing loss, or if you are uncertain about the status of your hearing, make an appointment to have your hearing tested by a licensed audiologist as soon as possible An audiologist is a highly educated (master’s or doctoral degree) health care professional who can evaluate your hearing, provide you with the facts about hearing loss and hearing aids, and design a treatment plan specifically tailored to meet your communication needs.
Do you have a problem with hearing or know someone who does? Why not get back into the swing of life now? The specialists of Midwest Hearing are waiting to assist you. To learn more about our audiologists and the hearing health care services they provide, please call 309-691-6616 in Peoria, or 309-284-0164 in Morton.