The Vital Sense: Exploring the Significance of Hearing
If you are like many who are weighing the ‘yes/no’ decision of hearing healthcare, or maybe in the ‘do it now OR later’, or in the ‘is it worth getting help for my parents’, you are essentially struggling with ‘how important or unimportant is my (or my parents’) health?’. Let us start by addressing the two major changes in hearing healthcare in the past decade.
#1. Hearing Loss Is a Progressive Degenerative Disorder.
It wasn’t long ago that most people in healthcare looked at hearing loss as a nuisance or something that was a ‘normal part of aging’. In fact, some people (thankfully not many!) still think of treating hearing loss as ‘elective healthcare’—which implies that hearing is somehow a luxury that we can live without.
BUT THAT WAS THEN.
In the past decade, we have learned that hearing loss increases the risk of:
- falls (#1 cause of injury-related death in adults)
- losing your home
- lost wages
- premature death!
We’re not trying to scare you, rather, we believe we are ethically bound to each patient to level with them and tell them what we know to be true and what research tells us every day.
Signs of Hearing Loss
- Difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy environments.
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves.
- Turning up the volume on the TV or other electronic devices to a level that others find too loud.
- Struggling to hear high-pitched sounds like doorbells or alarms.
- Feeling like people are mumbling or not speaking clearly.
- Avoiding social situations or conversations due to the challenge of hearing.
- Tinnitus (ringing, buzzing, or hissing sounds in the ears).
- Ear pain, pressure, or a feeling of fullness in the ears.
- Difficulty following conversations on the phone.
- Misunderstanding or misinterpreting what others are saying.
- Not hearing well in one ear (unilateral hearing loss).
Treating hearing loss and tinnitus is notelective healthcare. Hearing is medically necessary for healthy social, emotional, physical, and cognitive function. Allow us to briefly explain each one of these so that you have a solid foundation of the medical benefits:
Most often referred to as our ability to interact, form and maintain meaningful relationships. Most of the empirical research on hearing loss has a focus on the social impacts of this debilitating disorder.
Withdrawal from social situations is common in individuals with hearing loss, even in the earliest stage of the disorder. Most patients mention feelings of embarrassment, loneliness, inadequacy, fear of making mistakes in conversations, and feeling like they are not part of the conversation. Below is a quote from one of the most famous and brilliant composers that dates to the early 1800s. Unfortunately, we hear similar emotions from our patients in the 21st century.
“…my ears buzz and hum all the time, day, and night. I may tell you that I lead a wretched life. Over the past two years I have avoided almost all social contact because I can hardly say to people ‘I am deaf’.”—Ludwig van Beethoven
Fortunately, the data and real-life everyday experiences of our patients affirm that treating hearing loss and tinnitus improve quality of life and contribute enormously to their ‘active aging’. We all share the same goal to maintain autonomy and independence as we age, and thus we must rely on preserving the tenets of interdependence (socialization and reliance on family and loved ones) and intergenerational solidarity (maintaining companionship with age-matched peers) to insure active aging.
It does not take an advanced degree to understand that physical activity is a requirement of maintaining proper health, especially as we age. But not everybody comprehends that untreated hear ing loss results in people being less physically active.
Here is a fascinating statistic. Centenarians--people who live to be 100 years young or more embody a small percentage of the total U.S. population. In fact, only approximately 1 out of every 10,000 Americans are 100 years or older. This small slice of the population who are surviving to extreme old age lures the attention of not only researchers but also the public, as we attempt to recognize and learn from the experiences of those who beat the odds of environmental and biological hindrances to which most of us tend to fall prey.
Why do some people live such long, fulfilling lives, while others do not? Good question! Your first thought may be ‘perhaps these individuals are genetically unique’. The truth is genetics only play a 25% part in their endurance. Guess what the other 75% is? Lifestyle & Activity!! Ergo, we must remain active.
Having positive emotional health is a fundamental aspect of healthy aging. In general, people who are emotionally healthy are in control of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They can cope with life’s challenges. They can keep problems in perspective and bounce back from setbacks. They feel good about themselves and have good relationships. That is not to say that people who are emotionally healthy are always happy and free from negative emotions, rather they have the skills to be able to manage the ups and downs of day-to-day life.
But…the amount of published research that details the negative impact of untreated hearing loss on emotional health, stress, anxiety, and depression is exhaustive. And the cost to manage these comorbidities (additional disorders that result from living with untreated hearing loss) is tremendous—both in terms of real dollars and in emotional bank. The medical treatment of hearing loss is one key ingredient to emotional health by strengthening social connections, helping increase quality of sleep, being mindful, and increasing self-esteem.
Perhaps the easier way to put this is: living to a good age and having a good memory. Like your brain, your ears never sleep. This means your brain is constantly stimulated by the vast neural network of your ears. Until it is not. Then what happens?
Activities which stimulate the mind, i.e., hearing, can slow cognitive decline. What starts out as subtle cognitive changes that are seemingly associated with aging go on to affect an older adult’s day-to-day function. As we age, there are certain expected (albeit minor) cognitive changes that we will all experience. However, with increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia that may be the result of hearing loss, it is important to know the differences of ‘normal aging’, MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and dementia.
Early stages of significant cognitive decline (first seen in MCI) include problems with memory, language, thinking, judgement, and visual perception. Fortunately, most people are still ‘with it’ enough to notice these issues and can seek early intervention. Family and close friends may also notice a change. But these changes often are not severe enough to significantly interfere with daily life.
MCI along with hearing loss can increase your risk of later developing dementia caused by Alzheimer’s or other neurological conditions. However, undeniable research is finding that early in tervention of hearing loss improves cognitive function, including memory recall, processing speed and selective attention.
The medical treatment of hearing loss and tinnitus is the #1 modifiable factor for preventing dementia.
As we age, failure to spend even $5,000 on the medical treatment of hearing loss and tinnitus can easily create an $8,000 problem (the average cost to treat anxiety and stress), $30,000 (the average cost a family incurs when an older adult falls) or even a $57,000 problem (the average cost, per year to manage a loved one with dementia!).
You cannot stop your genetics from causing your hearing loss (and it is not worth getting mad and blaming your parents!). You also cannot go back in time and NOT attend that loud concert or perhaps take back all those years you spent working in a factory or restaurant, serving in the military, mowing the lawn, or playing in a band. THE DAMAGE IS DONE—and it will only get worse without treatment.
All it takes is finding the right hearing healthcare provider to truly “fix” your hearing loss and tinnitus and all the associated cognitive needs. Here is what we are typically told by so many patients and family members:
- I am sorry I did not do this sooner.
- I had no idea how my hearing loss was impacting everybody around me.
- I wish I never let finances get in my way!
- This is SO EASY!
#2. Aging Isn’t What Is Used to Be.
It wasn’t too long ago that aging and retired adults spent most of their days in their homes and did not live an active lifestyle. Dr. Keith Darrow can still vividly remember his grandmother in her house dress and his pop spending most of his days sitting in his chair. In less than a generation there has been a dramatic change in how adults age. Older adults are working longer and playing longer! Heck… his 70-something year old mother wears jeans and Ugg boots; and he tells us that she has a much fuller social calendar than he does!
Here are some myths about aging that we have all heard:
- People slow down with age.
- You can only learn new things when you are young.
- It is time to rest now.
- DECLINE IS INEVITABLE!
Here are some truths about aging (just to name a few!):
- Older adults who continue to challenge themselves with complex mental activities can delay or even reverse the normal decline in brain mass that is a part of primary aging.
- We are living longer (life expectancy has more than doubled in the past 120 years or so).
- In the U.S., the average 65-year-old male is expected to live to 80. If you reach 80, your life expectancy increases to age 90!The average 65-year-old woman in the U.S. is expected to live to age 85. Once she reaches 85, her life expectancy exceeds 90!
- Older adults who spend more time interacting with a wide range of people are more likely to be physically active and have greater emotional wellbeing.
- DECLINE IS OPTIONAL.
The fact is, your 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s are your most formative years and set the course for how you want to be remembered and the legacy you leave. ‘The back 9 of life’, as we sometimes refer to it, is your time to shine, your time to enjoy, your time to make the most of life.
The Top 5 Reasons People Avoid Seeing the Hearing Care Specialist
- Patients are afraid/embarrassed/see it as a sign of aging.
- Fear is the #1 reason most people avoid treating their hearing loss. Whether it be ‘fear of the unknown’, ‘fear of costs’ or ‘fear of looking old’, nearly 42 million people live with fear of accepting and treating their hearing loss and therefore do nothing about it.
- Feelings of shame, inadequacy, being forgotten about, frustration, loneliness and insecurity are common in older adults with hearing loss. Often, people will deny themselves medical treatment for fear of being seen as ‘old’ by others. Trust me when I say this—not treating your hearing loss, not being part of the conversation, always saying ‘what?’ and ‘huh?’ when others speak—that makes you look old! (Sorry to be so blunt.)
- Patients are afraid it is going to cost too much.
- When it comes to treating hearing loss and tinnitus, much has changed in the past decade. Perhaps the biggest change is the increase in access and decrease in costs!! New treatment options for addressing hearing, tinnitus and associated cognitive decline are simple and affordable for all. Our practices offer membership programs that make treatment affordable. Fortunately, gone are the days of having to pay large out-of-pocket costs. (If you are only given the option to pay for your treatment in full upfront - run the other way!).\
- Patients are afraid it is going to take too long/ miss too much work.
- We understand that time is of the essence. Modern technology and ease of access allow us to work around your schedule AND be efficient with your time. We believe that time is of the essence, no matter your age. Modern technology used in most hearing healthcare offices allows for efficient diagnostic and treatment processes to make the most of your time in the office.
- Patients don’t see the need to take action.
- Untreated and undertreated hearing loss (people who use traditional hearing aids or over-the-counter hearing aids) can significantly decrease quality of life and increase risk of dementia, falls, isolation, and premature death. In fact, not properly addressing your hearing loss and tinnitus can lead to a loss of independence. If you have early signs of hearing loss and tinnitus—you need to act, NOW!
- Patients have been treated in the past and it didn’t work.
- Let’s face it, not all hearing healthcare specialists are created equal. Every profession has its ‘bad apples’ and to say that audiology is an exception would be to write a tale of fiction. There is NO ROOM to be indifferent when it comes to choosing the right hearing healthcare provider. Finding the right practice means that they offer state-of-the-art technology and state-of-the-art service! The right provider offers every opportunity for patients to feel comfortable, safe, and the feeling of knowing they made the right decision (which is why our practices offer a Lifetime Guarantee.
For the most up-to-date information on hearing loss, please visit us at www.excellenceinaudiology.org.