The statistics for hearing loss vary a bit depending on the source, but it is often cited as the number-one health issue in the world and the third most common health issue in the United States, where it affects as many as 37 million people.
Hearing loss can affect anyone at any age, but presbycusis — hearing loss that occurs gradually as one ages — is quite common. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated one-third of people in the U.S. between the ages of 65 and 75 and nearly one-half of those older than 75 have some degree of hearing impairment.
“As hearing ability declines with age, interventions such as hearing aids should be considered not only to improve hearing but to preserve the brain,” said Jonathan Peelle. He is the lead author of a recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience that indicates that hearing loss may accelerate brain atrophy in auditory areas of the brain. According to the Hearing Loss Association, however, many people who experience hearing impairment wait an average of seven years before seeking help, and 75% of those who could benefit from hearing aids do not use them.
Dr. Rae McIntee of McIntee Ear Nose Throat and Laser Center in Illinois says that she sees a lot of depression in older adults because they feel like they can’t interact with the crowd. Most of the time, she says, the hearing problems are relatively simple to fix. Researchers for a study conducted by the Better Hearing Institute surveyed more than 2,000 hearing aid users regarding 14 specific quality-of-life issues. The study results indicated that eight out of 10 users are satisfied by changes in their lives due to their hearing aids, and a little more than half saw improvements in their home relationships and their social lives in general.
“When I started 20 years ago, I was adjusting hearing aids with a screwdriver,” said Michele Watts, an audiologist with Associated Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists in Valparaiso, Indiana. “Now, we can make millions of fine-tuning adjustments using incredible digital software technologies.”
mHealth advancements, which we’ve mentioned here on the firstSTREET blog before, also include developments in treating hearing loss. Andrew Van Hasselt chairs the ear, nose, and throat department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and is also one of the principal developers of a technology called ACEHearing that enables consumer electronics with hearing enhancement abilities. ACEHearing will first be used on smartphones, either as an app that individuals can add to their own devices or something that will come pre-installed on the phones.
In the future, the developers hope to apply the technology to other personal devices, such as headsets, earphones, and MP3 players. It’s not intended to replace hearing aids, but to complement them. In the instance of using a phone, for example, it eliminates the need to wear the hearing aid which can sometimes cause painful telephone signal interference.
Alexandra Wexler, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, describes how ACEHearing works:
Users will be able to assess their own hearing in a quiet room by performing a hearing test that takes about five minutes. The device will capture and assess the individual’s hearing profile, and then calibrate the smartphone to adjust and enhance its sound output by filling in gaps in the part of the sound spectrum where hearing is less than ideal. It doesn’t just make everything louder.
Medical experts agree that it is a good idea for everyone to get their hearing tested once a year. If you believe you are experiencing a loss of your hearing, please consult with an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist) or an audiologist.
Source: “SENIOR MOMENT: Dealing with hearing loss,” SwVa Today, 09/06/11
Source: “Advances in technology help people with hearing loss,” Get Healthy, 08/29/11
Source: “Living with hearing loss,” ConnecTristates.com (KHQA), 08/18/11
Source: “Protect against Hearing Loss,” Injury Board Blog Network, 09/02/11
Source: “Better Hearing Is Being Made More Convenient,” The Wall Street Journal, 08/24/11
Source: “Hearing loss ‘linked to brain atrophy in elderly’,” MediPlacements, 08/31/11
Source: “Hearing Aids Improve Quality of Life, Empower People with Hearing Loss to Stay Socially Active, New Study by Better Hearing Institute Finds,” Profitable.com, date unknown
Source: “Helping those with hearing loss,” The Register-Guard, 09/05/11
Image by Menage a Moi (Simon James), used under its Creative Commons license.