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  • Writer's pictureNick Oldham

It’s Not Your Fault You Have Hearing Loss

Here’s some good news for those of us who have a hard time owning responsibility for our hearing loss — there’s a calendar day on which it’s perfectly acceptable to blame someone else for our problem.

The first Friday the 13th of every year is Blame Someone Else Day — a 24-hour pass during which we can point the finger at family members, inanimate objects and society in general as the cause for our befuddled hearing. What? You don’t how to pass the buck? Please — allow me….

You’re mumbling

Yes, your teenage grandson really should stop looking at his smart phone and lift his head before he answers your question and, yes, it would be advantageous if your wife actually came into the same room before she started giving you information about your weekend plans. Go ahead — tell them, nicely of course, they’re the reason you didn’t hear what they said. It is true that it’s easier to have a conversation with someone who is standing right in front of you — and who enunciates well.

But just between you and me, did you know that speech discrimination is one of the first signs of a particular type of hearing loss known as presbycusis? According to the National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), presbycusis is age-related and affects both ears at the same time. The NIDCD says one in three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 have some hearing loss, more than half over the age of 75 have trouble hearing. It’s one of the most common types of hearing loss affecting older adults, caused mainly by physical changes to the inner ear. Hey, parts wear out eventually, right?

If your hearing healthcare professional determines you have presbycusis, chances are good that hearing aids will improve your ability to understand speech. But, you’re on your own when it comes to improving your family’s communication habits.

This restaurant is too noisy

Honestly, I’m on your side on this one. Newer restaurants have removed many of the soft-sided accouterments of days gone by — carpeting, curtains, padded booths — in favor of a trendy industrial hardscape with high ceilings and tile flooring. While all of this might be en vogue, it’s certainly not conducive to having a good conversation with a group of friends. Between the chairs scraping on the floor, reverberation and the clatter of tableware, it can be almost impossible to hear the person sitting on the other end of the table — or in some cases, the one seated right beside you.

While we’re on the subject, you might be interested to know this is another symptom of presbycusis. A 1990 study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website discovered that older adults, regardless of their degree of hearing loss, had more trouble understanding speech in situations where there was competing noise than did their younger counterparts.

Fortunately, depending on the type and severity of your hearing loss, individuals with this type of hearing loss usually benefit from wearing hearing aids with speech-enhancing technology. The microphones in these devices focus on speech and minimize background noise. But don’t take my word for it. A 2014 study published on the NCBI website found that hearing devices significantly improved speech understanding for older adults with moderate, age-related hearing loss.

The volume isn’t high enough

It might be the television, the car radio, the computer, or even the chimes on that new-fangled appliance that sings when the cycle is finished. If you can’t hear it, it must not be loud enough, right?

A long history of noise exposure may be the reason you feel the need to turn the volume up on your devices now since age-related hearing loss can be blamed in part on the noisy environments we grew up in. Many of us worked in noisy environments or served in the military where loud sounds were common. Loud sounds, whether they occur consistently over a long period of time or happen suddenly, such as an explosion, can kill or damage the sensitive hair cells of the inner ear. These hair cells are responsible for translating the noises our ears collect into electrical impulses and sending them along the auditory nerve to our brain, which interprets the signals as recognizable sound. Loud noise bends and breaks these hair cells so they are no longer able to send signals to the brain — and the damage is irreversible.

This type of damage to our hearing health is known as sensorineural hearing loss. A hearing healthcare professional can evaluate the damage and determine whether or not the remaining hearing can be enhanced with amplification.

But seriously…

If you recognize yourself in one or more of these situations, chances are good that your hearing simply isn’t what it used to be. And, while you’re in good company with the other 48 million Americans who report some degree of hearing loss, blaming other people or even things for the problem isn’t going to make it any better.

Untreated hearing loss is associated with a wide range of physical, mental and emotional issues ranging from circulatory problems like heart disease and diabetes to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In most cases, amplification can reduce these risks, but the average time a person with hearing loss waits to seek treatment is seven years after their diagnosis.

That statistic is hard to believe since hearing aids have become smaller and more discreet in the last ten years, all but eliminating the stigma your parents and grandparents may have felt when wearing them. Not to mention, technology that’s every bit as impressive as today’s most sophisticated computers and small enough to fit in your ear, is reason enough to see what hearing aids can do for you.

So today, go ahead and blame someone else for your hearing loss. Tomorrow? Maybe it’s time to own your hearing loss and schedule a hearing evaluation with a qualified hearing healthcare professional.

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