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Many thanks to Joan at Hearing Direct for this interesting article.
Hearing loss is one of the most common forms of sensory impairment that affects people of all ages and all walks of life. There are over 10 million hard of hearing and deaf in the UK and projections put this number at over 14 million by 2031. The most common forms of hearing loss disability are the age related type (known as ‘Presbycusis’) and noise induced hearing loss (known as ‘NIHS’). While the two forms of hearing loss have differing causes, the end result of loss of hearing or even deafness is similar.
The Danger Of Unmanaged Hearing Loss
In the past it was usually assumed that not doing anything about a hearing loss unmanaged would have a negative impact on quality of life in terms of some social interactions and listening to music and television but that there wouldn’t be anything else more complicated to consider. We now know however, thanks to research by Johns Hopkins and Harvard, that unmanaged hearing loss can have far reaching effects on an individual’s mental health. It is the relationship between reduced auditory stimuli and patterns of reclusiveness that is causing concern, including progression of dementia.
The Causes Of Hearing Loss
As with any complex sensory ability, our hearing combines the workings of several organs that must work in harmony. When one part of the chain is broken an inability to capture sensory triggers or to process these triggers is likely to occur and lead to sensory impairment. In the case of hearing, it depends upon our ability to capture waves in the air (meaning: ‘sound’) and to translate the information in the brain into meaningful language. Capturing sound is done using thousands of hair like cells that reside inside the inner ear. These tiny structures capture sound in a wide spectrum of frequencies that are then sent to the brain by the hearing nerve for translation. These hair cells are extremely delicate and cannot regrow once damaged or destroyed.
As the body matures from around the age of 40, but more commonly in the over 65s, the quantity and quality of the hair cells will diminish leading to possible hearing loss. The severity of the disability will depend on many reasons from family history (age related hearing loss is thought to be hereditary) to exposure to harmful noise over years. It is a natural process that individuals can do nothing to prevent but plenty to manage. The second common cause of hearing impairment is linked to lifestyle choices and contrary to age-related hearing loss, individuals can do much to prevent it. Harmful noise, in excess of 80dB can lead to the destruction of inner ear hair cells. The severity of the damage will depend on the level of sound (measured in Decibels / dB) and the duration of exposure.
In both cases, once the inner ear hair cells are damaged they cannot regrow and the hearing loss can never be ‘cured’ but rather managed for better quality of life.
Signs Of Hearing Loss:
As a person in charge of caring for someone with a possible hearing disability and in particularly the elderly, it is essential to come to terms with the symptoms of hearing loss. Individuals may become depressed by the impact that hearing loss may have on their social life and self-esteem. Commons symptoms include:
Muffled hearing; in that sound may seem too quiet or certain frequencies may not be heard at all
Difficulty understanding what people are saying, especially when there is background noise
Listening to the TV or radio at higher volume than in the past (very commonly when the volume seems unreasonably loud to others)
Avoiding conversation and social interaction. Social situations can be tiring and stressful if individuals do not hear well. They may start to avoid those situations as hearing becomes more difficult.
Communication Tips With A Hard Of Hearing Individual:
Communication with an individual who struggles with hearing loss can be greatly improved by using simple techniques.
If the individual is standing with their back to you and you are finding it difficult to draw their attention, gently touch their shoulder
When conducting a conversation, ensure you are standing face to face to the individual. Most people and naturally the hard of hearing use lip reading even unintentionally as a form of useful technique to assume what was said when communication is broken.
In addition, your face gestures together with lip reading are useful to complete the picture as to what is being said
Ensure that the room is well lit and refrain from standing or sitting with your back to the light as your face is likely be obscured in shadow
If possible, switch off any distracting background noise so you do not have to raise your voice. Raising your voice will actually distort speech, which makes it harder for the individual to understand you
Managing Hearing Loss:
The first step when you suspect someone is struggling to hear is to book a hearing test. The test is pain free and extremely accurate at determining whether the individual in question suffers from hearing loss, to what degree and the precise cause. In this article we have discussed age related and noise induced causes, however other less common causes are known. These can include stroke, viral infections, growths and even meningitis. Therefore the first step is always to diagnose the condition by attending a hearing test with a professional healthcare provider.
If hearing impairment is found and the cause understood, the individual will be offered options to manage the condition so its affect on quality of life is reduced. Common solutions to manage mild hearing loss include using assistive listening devices such as hearing aids (also available from the NHS at no cost), extra loud phones and others that amplify external sound, while in the case of mild or even profound hearing loss these devices may be used in conjunction with advance lip reading and even sign language. In the overwhelming number of cases, assistive listening devices are found to make a positive change in managing hearing loss.
We hope you found this information helpful.
Information written by Joan McKechnie BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan works for UK based Hearing Direct. In addition to her role as a company audiologist, Joan helps maintain an information blog on hearing loss.