Professional Audiology Center - Portsmouth, NH |
Professional Audiology HealthCare Newsletter
Hearing loss is often gradual and, therefore, something that you adapt to. You may not notice it for months; even years. But slowly, the hearing apparatus that nature provided does wear out and as we grow older it simply becomes part of the aging process. Presbycusis is the gradual loss of hearing that occurs as people age. It is a common disorder associated with aging and one out of three adults age 65 will be diagnosed with hearing loss and approximately 50% of individuals age 75 will be hearing impaired. Presbycusis usually occurs gradually and typically the hearing sensitivity is the same in both ears. The following are the most common symptoms of presbycusis: People seem to mumble, high pitch sounds are hard to distinguish, difficulty hearing in noisy settings, women and children’s voices are more difficult then men’s, hypersensitivity to loud sounds and tinnitus may occur in one or both ears. Delaying treatment can lead to auditory deprivation.
Most of us remember our mother’s telling us “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”. Audiologists are also telling their patients “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”. In fact, the human body operates on a “use it or lose it” scenario and the auditory system is no different. Auditory deprivation describes a significant decrease in an ear’s ability to understand speech and a decrease in general hearing ability due to lack of auditory stimulation. In other words, the ability of the auditory system to process speech declines due to lack of stimulation (hearing loss). With auditory deprivation, the brain gradually loses some of its auditory processing ability.
There is a growing collection of research and detailed studies that indicate that individuals with hearing loss are better helped when they act quickly to resolve their hearing difficulties. When the hearing nerves and areas within the brain are deprived of sound, they tend to atrophy or weaken over time. The key to avoid auditory deprivation is to keep the auditory system active and not allow parts of the auditory system to stay dormant.
Numerous studies indicate that the auditory system can recover from the affects of auditory deprivation. Early intervention with hearing aid amplification can significantly improve an individual’s speech discrimination ability. But, unfortunately, the negative effects of auditory deprivation cannot be completely resolved with amplification systems. Early intervention is critical in reducing the effects of auditory deprivation and research clearly indicates that the longer an individual ignores the hearing loss the more difficult it is to treat. In addition, there is now new information that suggests a correlation between the degree of hearing loss and dementia.
Older adults with hearing loss appear more likely to develop dementia and the risk increases as hearing loss becomes more severe according to research reported in the Archives of Neurology. The risk of dementia appears to rise as hearing loss declines. Even those with a mild hearing impairment are nearly twice as likely as those with normal hearing to develop dementia. It is unclear at this time as to why the hearing loss and cognitive function go hand in hand but there is speculation that auditory deprivation can bring on dementia. It is thought that the brain may be attempting to reallocate resources to help with hearing at the expense of cognition. Because we listen with our ears but hear with our brains it is not possible to separate audition and cognition.
Whether hearing aids or other medical treatments can stave off dementia needs further Investigation. Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia and there are no sure fire ways of preventing it. Researchers are currently investigating the effects of hearing aids on the risk of dementia and whether or not it can delay the onset or the severity of the dementia.
Early detection and early intervention is important in reducing the effects of auditory deprivation and perhaps reduce the onset or severity of dementia. Age related hearing loss i.e., presbycusis can be delayed by diet and exercise. A diet that is low in saturated animal fat and refined carbohydrates but also includes plenty of fish, whole grains, seeds, nuts, vegetables and fruits. Studies have also shown that vitamins A and E supplements may reduce the prevalence of age-related hearing loss.
If a person suspects a hearing loss, an audiological evaluation should be scheduled. A comprehensive audiological evaluation consists of a battery of tests designed to identify normal vs. abnormal hearing, the degree or severity of loss, which ears are affected and the type of loss and best treatment options. Audiological testing is covered by most health insurance plans including Medicare.