Hearing Loss

Photo by Mark Paton on Unsplash

An old man started feeling that his wife was having a hearing problem. So, he went to a doctor and asked him what he should do about it. The doctor said he could not do anything unless he sees his wife. The man said he is worried about upsetting her by suggesting that she has a hearing problem. So, the doctor suggested that he ask her a question from behind, starting from 15 feet away. If she does not answer, move 3 feet closer and ask her the same question and keep doing it until she answers. He went home, stood behind her and asked “What is for dinner?”. There was no answer, so he went 3 feet closer. The same thing, no reply. He moved another 3 feet, yet no response. Finally he moved another 3 feet and yelled “What’s for dinner?” She shouted ” For the fourth time, it’s chicken casserole!”

As we get older, we lose hearing ability. In most cases, we don’t even know that we are losing it. It usually shows up in the high frequency sounds. When you listen to music, you may be hearing just a portion of the sound spectrum, but most likely you don’t even know it. It is only when hearing loss gets bad enough that you start missing things being said by other people.

Since hearing loss is so common with aging, it might sound like just an inconvenience. However, according to various scientific studies, it has a major impact on cognition. It has been conclusively proven that hearing loss results in cognitive decline, and that of course means it will cause or accelerate mild cognitive impairment (MCI). There are various reasons for it but no conclusive cause-and-effect has been identified. One possibility is that as hearing loss develops, it becomes necessary to pay extra attention to sounds and noises in order to understand what is happening in a situation. This could result in an overload on brain processing, affecting the brain. Another possibility is that people who lose their hearing may socially withdraw. Lack of socialization is one of the factors known to affect cognitive decline.

So this raises the question about the use of a hearing aid, and whether this could counteract these effects and prevent cognitive decline. There have been a lot of studies done on this subject, and many of them indicate the beneficial effect of hearing aids on preventing dementia. Here is one example of a study which definitively shows that wearing hearing aids lowers the risk of developing dementia.

This suggests that it would be prudent to monitor your hearing capacity in case it is affecting you. Of course the best thing to do is to go to the doctor and have your hearing tested. Unfortunately hearing loss creeps up on you, so like myself, you might not even think of going to the doctor for it.

If you are like me, who hates going to the doctor, there is one thing you can do. There are various hearing test apps available, many of which you can download free. I don’t know if this is the best one available, but I myself use Mimi Hearing Application which has a good rating. You need a good pair of earphones because if they are low quality, the test results may not be accurate. I started using it in April this year. So far my readings indicate that I have a slight hearing loss. However, it also indicates that my hearing is quite normal for my age group. So, I am not concerned but it is something I need to keep monitoring. It may be a good idea for me to see a doctor one of these days.

As far as the causes for hearing loss, apparently there are three types; sensorineural, conductive and mixed. I am not getting into these details here since they are beyond the scope of this article. It is best that you go and see the doctor as soon as you start noticing issues, either by low scores in a self-administered hearing test or if you start finding yourself struggling in conversations. The doctor will assess your condition and decide the best course of action, including a hearing aid if necessary.

Just one more piece of interesting information. According to this article, a few scientists found a way to regrow the sensory hair cells found in a part of the inner ear that converts sound vibrations into electrical signals. Unfortunately it is still in a very early stage of development. Once they find a practical way to apply it, it could possibly be used to repair hearing loss. However, we don’t want to risk having MCI getting any worse by not taking actions sooner. We should all test our hearing, either by using one of the apps mentioned above, or better yet, by going to a doctor and take corrective actions before it becomes too late.

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