During the last several years I knew that my hearing wasn’t as good as it used to be. But like millions of other baby boomers I told myself I was far too young to worry about it. But because I prefer preventative medicine to reactionary medicine, I decided to get a hearing test just to check things out. Even then I was somewhat shocked and dismayed to learn just how bad my hearing really was. After digging around on the Internet I was equally shocked to find out how common impaired hearing is for millions of Americans. Even more important is why the denial of it can become such a huge problem if left untreated.
According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine up to 20% of Americans over the age of 12 have trouble hearing in one or both ears. That’s one out of every five of us. Statistics also show that of those of us willing to admit we have a hearing loss, over 19% are ages 45 to 64 and nearly 30% are ages 65 to 74. Once you reach age 75, over 44% have hearing loss. And even though men are more likely to report hearing loss and blacks seems to do better than Caucasians, nearly half of us will have to deal with it at some point in our lives. Perhaps more baffling is that of all the people who are willing to admit to having a hearing problem, only one in seven uses a hearing aid.
What’s The Problem?
The big problem is denial. For several reasons most of us don’t want to admit that we can’t hear like we used to think we could. Then, like me, even if we admit we might have a bit of a problem, we deny that it is bad enough to warrant taking action. There are several big clues that indicate whether any one of us really should take action. Here are five questions to ask yourself:
1) Do I believe some people talk too quietly or mumble a lot to be heard well?
2) Do I dislike talking on the telephone because the connection isn’t clear or is sometimes difficult to hear?
3) Is it hard for me to follow the conversation in certain television shows (like Downton Abby) because of the accents or diction even when I turn it up loud?
4) More than once a day do I ask my spouse/friends/children to speak up or repeat themselves?
5) Do I avoid talking to people in crowded noisy places especially if they are sitting or standing a couple of seats away from me?
If you answered yes to more than one of these questions you probably have a problem that you’ve been denying. And remember, even when people are willing to admit that they might have a bit of a hearing problem, only one in seven is willing to take the steps to correct it. What is even more tragic is that people with what is considered to be severe hearing loss were just about as likely to deny they had a problem as those with mild or moderate loss.
What Are The Reasons For Denial?
As might be expected there are lots of studies being done to try to determine causes for hearing loss and what people are doing, or not doing, about it. The most common causes for hearing impairment are genetics, exposure to extremely loud noises, certain illnesses and/or their corresponding treatments, and even head injuries. Who among us hasn’t wondered about the price of listening to loud music? Research shows there are five top reasons people don’t take steps to treat hearing loss.
1) Finances. Hearing aids are expensive. I got my first case of sticker shock when I went to Costco and learned from the technician that the recommended Costco Brand costs $1,800. Just like with most people, hearing aids are not covered by my insurance making it cost prohibitive for many people.
2) Stigma. Let’s face it. Most of us tend to believe only old people wear hearing aids even though my research proves otherwise. And while I don’t believe myself to be overly concerned with the aging process and my own mortality, it does beg the question in a big way.
3) Hassle. Most of us are busy people and being instructed to maintain and care for an expensive item that we never before had to think about can be daunting.
4) Lack of knowledge or bad experience. Many people are unsure of how to proceed and others were given faulty advice in the past leading to a bad experience.
5) Attitude about hearing aids. Most of us have heard negative reviews from people who wore hearing aids, leading us to believe they often don’t help at all. Some of this is certainly valid but most has to do with lack of education.
Why Correcting Impaired Hearing Really Matters
I must confess I was in no initial hurry to rush out and buy the expensive hearing aids that were recommended to me. Even though I know and trust the technician at Costco where I had my hearing test, I still wanted to believe it wasn’t that bad. All the excuses I listed above were running through my head. That was until I began researching this article and learned the five big reasons addressing impaired hearing really matters:
#1 Hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline and to all-cause Dementia. While questions remain whether wearing a hearing aid can actually reverse this trend, there is no doubt there is a correlation. Simply put–not hearing changes our brains in a negative way.
#2 Hearing loss causes problems with memory. Diminished hearing stresses our cognitive load and makes memory increasingly difficult.
#3 Hearing loss affects our brain structure and shrinks our gray matter. Anything that isn’t used shrinks and atrophies. Again, our brain processing is being altered by not being able to hear.
#4 Hearing loss leads to a growing social isolation that contributes to dozens of health related issues.
#5 Hearing loss leads to poor balance, increased falls and slower movement as people age. (6)
Until I was willing to face the facts of my own hearing loss I remained blindly unaware of how prevalent the issue is for so many of us. Sure, most of us would prefer that we all stayed fully functioning and fit for our entire lives, but that seldom happens, especially if we reach the advanced ages we seek. And no one wants to spend money if they don’t have to. But denial seldom improves anything. Instead, maybe it’s SMART to remind ourselves that how well we hear without aids does not define who we are or our self worth. But, how well our brain hears and processes does help us to wholly experience life and to connect to others. As someone who intends to live life as fully as possible and as long as possible, why would I not take action to make it as good as possible? Why wouldn’t any of us do the same?
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