Everybody Loses Their Hearing

What? You heard that right.

We won’t get too existential here, but it is simply a part of life that we age. And, as we age, the many different processes of our body slow down, wear out, and deteriorate. The same goes for our sense of hearing. You can see it in the numbers: hearing loss is currently the third most common physical condition in the United States, following heart disease and arthritis.

While some 48 million Americans, or 20% of the population, have a hearing loss, the bulk of people who experience this condition are older than 65. Approximately one in three people over 65 and 50% of people over 75 experience some degree of hearing loss.

With the understanding that everyone loses their hearing, we take a look at presbycusis (age-related hearing loss), how hearing loss and brain function are related, and why it is important to take an annual hearing test – no matter how young you are.


Understanding Presbycusis

Presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, is a form of sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss is one of the three main types of hearing loss. Deep inside your inner ear, there are several thousand tiny inner hair cells. These cells are responsible for translating sound waves into neural signals, and then sending these signals to your brain to be registered as sound.

Presbycusis – and sensorineural hearing loss – occurs when structures of the inner ear deteriorate or when there is damage to inner ear hair cells (which do not regenerate once they have died). Presbycusis occurs with the natural process of aging: inner ear hair cells naturally deteriorate and do not regenerate with presbycusis. As a result, sound signals may be muddled and are not sent to the brain in an efficient and clear manner.

Unlike other forms of hearing loss, presbycusis occurs naturally and gradually over time. According to Dr. Justin S. Golub, presbycusis is often undiagnosed and undertreated, with under 20% of people receiving treatment for age-related hearing loss. Even more distressing is that “this statistic has not changed in over 40 years,” according to Dr. Golub.

If left untreated for a long period of time, presbycusis could lead to other issues that affect different areas of your life and overall well-being.


Consequences of Untreated Age-Related Hearing Loss

As an invisible condition, hearing loss often goes untreated. Age-related hearing loss, in particular, goes untreated simply because the symptoms are often relegated to the idiosyncrasies of older people. When hearing loss is “just a part of growing old,” there isn’t much motivation to do anything about it.

Unfortunately, if left untreated, age-related hearing loss (and other kinds too) could lead to a number of negative consequences in different parts of your life. People with untreated hearing loss tend to withdraw socially, as communication becomes challenging. Rather than going through the awkward motions of asking people to repeat themselves or to please turn up the volume, people with untreated hearing loss may end up avoiding social gatherings altogether. This social isolation becomes a risk factor of developing dementia. Coincidentally, untreated hearing loss is also a risk factor for developing dementia.

Numerous studies from Johns Hopkins University have found links between untreated hearing loss and a higher risk for developing dementia. When the brain struggles to make sense of sound, its cognitive load is heavier and thus detracts from the brain’s focus on other functions, such as memory or concentration.  Over time, this heavier cognitive load to lead to dementia.


Schedule an Annual Hearing Test

Indeed, the signs of hearing loss are subtle and often, hearing loss develops gradually, which means that we find ways to accommodate our diminishing hearing abilities. With the understanding that everyone loses their hearing, we counter with the fact that hearing loss is treatable.

Treating hearing loss is a simple way to restore your abilities and reconnect yourself to your loved ones and the world around you. It is recommended that people schedule annual hearing tests at the age of 50. If you are younger than 50, it wouldn’t hurt to take an annual hearing test anyway – people of all ages experience hearing loss.

The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that people wait an average of seven years from the time they first notice changes in their hearing to the time they decide to seek treatment for hearing loss. By scheduling an annual hearing test, you are committing to your overall health and well-being at every age.

About our guest writer Gabe Nelson

Gabriel Nelson is a man of 31 years old. He is the kind of guy that loves to watch superhero movies, to read Harry Potter, and play video games. Gabe enjoys freelance content writing occasionally and tends to write about his passions. Gabriel also loves water, streams, brooks, lakes and oceans, which is probably due to once being a crab fisherman in Alaska for a couple of years.


Tweaking a Hearing Aid Program..and Cookies

Yesterday was another trip to the audiologist to get my hearing aids programmed. For the last three months, certain sounds made me cringe, clench my teeth and rip out my hearing aids. Those worst of those sounds were in the kitchen; chopping vegetables on the cutting board, moving pots and pots around and someone setting something hard down on a counter/table. Those noises struck a nerve deep in my brain on the verge of pain. To top it off, rooms with bad acoustics made for such terrible hearing, I couldn’t understand any better than with them out.

At first I tried to bear with it, thinking my brain would get used to the harsh noise. Hearing people cope with noises all the time, right? However, it didn’t take long before I stopped wearing my hearing aids unless in public and even then, I could hardly wait to take them out. It took me about three months to get back to the audiologist, mainly because my favorite audi lived in another state about 11 hours away. I did not want to go through another round of finding someone I liked while living in Arizona.

When I moved back to Salt Lake, it still took me 6 weeks to see my audiologist. My time was spent settling in, getting things situated, pursing a business, skiing, kids…excuses, excuses. Mostly I only wore my aids when I absolutely had to but sometimes I tried to commit to the ten hours a day like last Monday morning.  I put them in and tried in spite of the pain factor .  Later that night while cooking, my boyfriend came home and the noise increased. I took them out, tucking them away into their box and thought, “That’s is it. It just isn’t working for me. ”

Tuesday afternoon while running errands, I drove to the audiologist office to make the appointment in person (I avoid the phone where I can). They had time for me the next afternoon and I thanked the office lady with all my heart. The next day, I barely made my appointment thanks to wasting time on FaceBook and a broody hen (we have three chickens).

I checked in and grabbed a cookie off the plate near the counter and sat down. Less than five minutes my favorite audiologist welcomed me into his high tech office. He hung the programming ‘necklace’ on me and we caught up until the programs came up on the computer. Then, he asked how my hearing was, and I told him.

After taking my right hearing aid off (I think), he slipped a very small wire not far into my ear and put my hearing aid back in. He told me this would measure the sounds how I heard it.  Then he recited a nice little rainbow poem and watched the monitor. He fiddled around for a few minutes on the computer watching the upper right screen mainly.

Four screens to play with

Then he put on noise that simulated a busy restaurant. “How does that sound,” he asked.

I think the left side of my lip curled up. “Annoying,” I told him.

He played with the program a little more, turned on the restaurant noise again. “How is this? Tolerable?”

“It’s not my most favorite sound in the world but, “I think so.”

“Would you wear your hearing aids in this environment?”

I was totally using lip reading at this point to hear him but I always use lip reading in those kind of situations. Was the noise intolerable? No. Would I wear my hearing aids this way? Yes, I could tolerate it.

“I’m comfortable here. I wouldn’t take them out.”

We chatted a few more minutes as he took off all the gadgets and I noticed a big difference.

“There were a few sounds spiking that would drive anyone crazy. This isn’t a typical situation but we got it fixed now.

“Ah! Then I’ll commit to ten hours a day again,” I told him.

He laughed. “I’ll walk up front with you to make an appointment for four months from now but if anything bothers you, come in sooner.

“You bet now that I’m back. Thanks!”

Upfront we made the appointment and I grabbed another cookie on the way out. How can you not love an audiologist who has a plate of fresh cookies out?

Driving didn’t bother me and I could hear the songs playing on the radio. I cooked dinner later without wanting to rip out my hearing aids. I woke up this morning and put them back in wearing them over ten hours. It’s amazing how much tweaking a program makes in hearing aids.


Gael Hannan at the SayWhatClub Convention

Gael Hannan is one of our favorite hearing loss advocates and she will be a workshop presenter at the 2013 SayWhatClub convention in Williamsburg, VA this year. Her blog is a must read and is at the Hearing Health website which you can read here by clicking here: Gael Hannan. She grew up with a progressive hearing loss. She’s a director for the board of Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) and a key developer for the Sound Sense program along with many other projects related to hearing loss.


Her blog is one of my favorites to read because she often uses humor to discuss our daily mishaps. Having had hearing loss all her life, her perceptions hit the nail right on the head. Here are some of my favorite clips from her posts:

On relationships with audiologists:

From the very first meeting, client and professional should establish a collaboration that will offer powerful benefits to both parties. They have clearly defined roles and share the responsibility for success. Otherwise, audiologists will continue to struggle with clients who balk at every suggestion, and hard of hearing clients who, if they are not exposed to additional communication strategies beyond their hearing aids, will not develop the best possible skills to successfully manage their hearing difficulties.”

It is hard to find a good audiologist who listens and knows what he/she is doing.

Hearing Aid Batteries

“The most challenging aspect of hearing aid batteries, beyond making sure you have some, is the act of putting them in. These cells are small beings, requiring manual dexterity. Battery manufacturers understand this and are always working on new designs for packaging and insertion. There have been dial-a-battery packages and some that push the battery out, but at the moment we seem to be back to simple packaging.”

Lots of good tips about batteries in this post. My hearing aid batteries went out last week at work and I forgot to put more in my purse so I spent the day hearing without one hearing aid and the other beeping at me all day to let me know it was going out too. I managed to make it announcing to each client, it was one of those days….

A Bad hearing weekend

“On Sunday evening, as we got ready for my son’s hockey game, there was the usual move-your-butt-we’re-running-late kind of family nattering going on around the house. Yelling up the stairs at my son, struggling with a two-storey conversation, I finally asked him to kindly come down so I could understand what he was saying. He tapped me on the shoulder from behind. He had been downstairs and came up to find me yelling up the stairs at a phantom. He found this very funny – me, not so much.”

I have three kids and there’s been a lot of hearing loss moments between us too so I got a good laugh here.

The whisper game

But back to whispering, something that gives hard of hearing people the willies. Whispering is about intimate secrets just beyond our reach, just beyond our capability. When someone whispers into our ear, their message is instantly compromised. If people whispered at us the same way they talk to us – face to face, with reasonable lip movement and facial expression – we would have a fighting chance of comprehension.

But that’s not how people whisper. They move in close to our ear, their lips out of our sightline. ‘S’ and ‘F’ sound the same and emotions are colorless, because there is no tone of voice or facial expressions to help us out. The puffs of air we feel against our ear tell us nothing – they are just staccato bits of oxygen tickling our pinnas.”

Whispering willies, I get them. I always jerk my head away as soon as someone does that too.

sounds we can hear

As a person with hearing loss, there are many sounds I’d love to hear well again, like the sibilant ‘s’ and Christmas bells. There are other sounds that I’m happy not to hear well any more – a person blowing their nose, comes to mind, or a cat expelling a fur ball.”

Sometimes it’s not fair what we hear and don’t hear.

Meeting others who can’t hear

When you get home, your family  will notice something different about you. They won’t be able to put their finger on it – but they’re thinking maybe something about the eyes and they will be right. Your eyes aren’t crazed, just a little shiny, glittering with the passion of the newly converted. You left the house frustrated with your hearing challenges, and have come home with a new sense of,I have hearing loss – and hooray, that’s OK!”

So come to the SWC hearing loss convention to gain a new awareness with Gael Hannan. We are excited to have her present “Ear Rage” at our convention. Please join us and register now at:

Note: This convention has ended, but we have another coming up soon!