Listen Up!

When to talk to a doctor about hearing loss

Written by Kinsey Gidick

The winter holidays mark a time for gathering with family and friends, but this celebratory season can also shine a light on hearing problems. In the midst of festivities, a family member suddenly missing keywords in a sentence, asking to have things repeated or perhaps misunderstanding something because they didn’t hear everything quite right may be red flags for hearing impairment, says Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated otologist (ear specialist) Dr. T. Oma Hester. Add in the loss of lip reading due to COVID-19 mask protocols, and those experiencing hearing loss are at an even greater disadvantage.

Hearing loss is nothing to be ashamed of. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15 percent of the world’s adult population has some degree of hearing loss, and a quarter of them are older than 65. As we age, the tiny hair cells in our ears, which let us hear, die and don’t grow back. Individuals who work in loud-noise environments like construction zones, concert venues or flight decks are especially vulnerable. Ignoring hearing problems can make things worse and lead to disabling hearing loss, which the Hearing Health Foundation reports in half of people over the age of 75. Despite this, reluctance to seek treatment remains strong.

About 28.8-million U.S. adults could find hearing aids advantageous, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. “If you look at those people who could benefit from hearing aids, only about 17 percent actually use them,” says Dr. Hester. However, unlike corrective eyeglasses, which are widely accepted and even seen as a fashion statement, a stigma remains around hearing aids.

“In the past, it’s always been a sort of vanity issue,” says Dr. Hester. “Hearing aids were big. They were visible. They would often make noise, called feedback.” Not so today. Advances in technology have revolutionized hearing aids, giving patients a whole spectrum of options, many of which can barely be seen once in place. If you or a family member notice signs like needing to keep the TV at high volumes, communication misunderstandings or missed calls due to not hearing the phone ring, it might be time to meet with your general practitioner, an audiologist, or an ENT physician.

Lend an Ear

Modern solutions for hearing loss abound. Here’s what’s available for treating moderate to total hearing loss:
Wax removal: Sometimes, the only treatment necessary is the removal of wax blocking the ear from hearing. This is a short in-office procedure.

Hearing Aids: Rechargeable and nearly invisible, today’s hearing aids are compact devices that can be tailored to your exact needs. For instance, Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids can become a wireless headset for any modern smartphone.

Surgical treatment: Some hearing loss cases involving repeated infections or hearing bone abnormalities require surgical treatments, such as the insertion of pressure equalizing tubes or the repair of eardrum or hearing bone abnormalities.

Cochlear implant: For more severe cases, a cochlear implant may be the best treatment option. The implant bypasses damaged parts of the inner ear and directly stimulates the hearing nerve.

Photograph (woman) by ShotPrime Studio/Shutterstock

More Senior Health Research

A Bright Future?

New research reveals a surprising decline in cognitive functioning among baby boomers

From the Greatest Generation to the war babies, each successive generation of Americans has made strides in remembering, reasoning and analytics. However, that climb up the cognitive ladder makes a downward slide starting with the baby boomers, says the Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

As part of a new study, more than 30,000 adults performed a variety of “thinking” tests, like object recall and counting backward by seven. The average scores of adults aged 50 and older begin slipping in the early baby boomers (born 1948 to 1953) and continue falling in the mid-generation (born 1954 to 1959), without regard for gender, race, ethnicity, education or class. The results shocked researchers, given boomers’ higher education levels, reduced smoking habits and access to heart healthcare, all of which link to a lower risk of mental decline.

When it comes to intelligence, researchers believe factors such as lower wealth, increased loneliness and depression, obesity and lack of physical activity outweigh other advantages. To keep your mind sharp, hone in on modifiable lifestyle behaviors like eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, controlling blood pressure and watching your cholesterol and blood sugar.

Photograph by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Your Best Shot

Vaccines may give people a better shot at fending off Alzheimer’s, say two new studies presented at this summer’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. Debunking an early 2000s rumor that flu vaccines cause Alzheimer’s, the evidence shows that one’s risk for developing the disease decreases by: