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Monthly Archives

February 2018

Five Bad Habits That Can Hurt Your Hearing

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Bad habits are hard to break but when it concerns your health, it pays to listen.  Here are five bad habits that can hurt your hearing health:

  1. SmokingYou’ve known now for many years that smoking is bad for your health. It even warns you directly on the box of cigarettes. One of the often-overlooked side effects of smoking is hearing loss. The chemicals produced by smoking a cigarette inhibit your inner ear’s ability to transmit vibrations. The more you smoke the more irreversible damage will be done. Second-hand smoke has the same effect on your family and friends.
  2. DrinkingA study in 2010 found that moderate to high alcohol intake results in brain damage that keeps the brain from being able to interpret and process sounds. The trouble is even worse for folks with alcoholism; the central auditory cortex will become damaged, which may lead to brain shrinkage (that’s never good). Damage to the inner ear known as ototoxicity, is also possible for excessive drinkers. High levels of alcohol in the bloodstream create a toxic environment, which damages the hair cells in the cochlea.  Those hair cells transmit each sound you hear to your brain within milliseconds.
  3. ObesityBeing overweight puts you at risk for a barrage of problems ranging from diabetes to circulatory trouble, to straining your heart, all of which have been linked to hearing loss. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital published a study in 2013 that found women with a higher body mass index had a 17 % higher risk of hearing loss. The study also found that simple physical activity, such as walking for 2 or more hours a week lowered that risk of hearing loss.  So you can see the large impact your diet has on your overall health.
  4. Skipping the DentistYou may not immediately think your teeth and hearing health are connected, but they certainly are. Poor dental health allows harmful bacteria to enter the bloodstream, narrowing and blocking arteries that lead to the brain. This can interrupt the way the brain receives signals from the auditory nerve. Bad oral hygiene can also lead to heart disease, heart attack, stroke and diabetes, which have been linked to hearing loss.
  5. Skipping the DoctorAn annual physical can detect hearing loss, but more importantly the doctor will be able to tell you if your hearing loss is caused by something other than age. An obstruction, such as earwax buildup, inflammation or tumor can be addressed and possibly get you hearing again or stop further damage.  Doctors are able to refer you to an Audiologist or an Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor, who specialize in dealing with hearing loss.

Hearing Loss and Dementia

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“Seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing… Our findings emphasize just how important it is for physicians to discuss hearing with their patients and to be proactive in addressing any hearing declines over time.”[1]

The link between untreated hearing loss and the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease:

Multiple studies indicate hearing loss can be linked to the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Leaving hearing loss untreated could pose a serious risk that has not been widely shared with the hearing-impaired population. Providing this information will encourage patients and their loved ones to make more informed and timely decisions about their hearing care.

Frank R. Lin, MD, Ph.D conducted a study commonly cited by medical professionals on the topic of hearing loss and cognitive decline. The study observed 1,984 adults with a mean age of 77.4 years over the course of six years, tracking the progression of their hearing loss in relation to their cognitive function. Dr. Lin concluded that while further research was needed to identify the mechanics of how and why hearing loss and cognitive decline are related, there is little doubt the hearing loss is a factor in loss of mental acuity in older adults. The study also indicated that the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the likelihood of developing a cognitive disorder, and the steeper the decline in mental function. However, even subjects with mild hearing loss were found more likely to experience cognitive failures.

“Declines in hearing abilities may accelerate gray matter atrophy and increase the listening effort necessary to comprehend speech… Hearing aids may not only improve hearing but preserve the brain.”[2]

In January 2014, Dr. Lin and his team released new results regarding changes in the brains of adults with normal hearing to those of adults with hearing loss. After undergoing MRI exams every year for ten years, 51 of the 126 participants examined who had at least a 25-decibel hearing loss from the start, displayed accelerated rates of gray matter shrinkage when compared to the 75 participants with normal hearing. Those with hearing impairments lost more than additional cubic centimeter of brain matter annually and experienced greater shrinkage of tissue in the structures responsible for processing sound and gyri, which play key roles in memory and sensory integration. Similar damage to these regions can be seen patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Untreated hearing loss is linked to reduced earning, increased workplace absenteeism, and lower workplace productivity, as well as depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline.”

Early diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss slows the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

As evidence continues to mount that hearing loss is a contributing factor in the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, it is imperative to inform patients of the profound consequences of ignoring their hearing loss. People with hearing loss on average wait 7 years from when they were diagnosed to seek treatment, even though the sooner hearing loss is detected and treatment begins, the more hearing ability can be preserved. Considering early diagnosis and medical intervention also slows the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, it is more important than ever for physicians to encourage patients to get their hearing loss treated sooner rather than later.

Treatments with hearing aids not only help improve a patient’s hearing – they may be the key to preventing brain atrophy and cognitive dysfunction.

“The cost of health care, long-term care and hospice (for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients in the US) combined to equal $183 billion per year, and are expected to increase to 1.1 trillion per year by 2050.”[3]

 

 

[1] Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Accelerates Brain Function Decline in Older Adults. 2013 (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_accelerates_brain_function_decline_in_older_adults)
[2] University of Pennsylvania – Perelman School of Medicine, Johnathan Peele, PhD. 2011 (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110231115946.htm)
[3] Alzheimer’s Association. 2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures (http://www.alz.org/downloads/Facts_Figures_2011.pdf.)

Tips for Drivers with Hearing Loss

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The open road can be a dangerous place. Anyone getting into a car and turning on the ignition has a tremendous responsibility.  The life of the driver, passengers, pedestrians and other motorists are in many senses in a heightened state of vulnerability. Careful driving requires the engagement of visual and auditory senses to make informed decisions.  Hearing loss can greatly impair an individual’s ability to hear important safety cues such as a horn honking, a siren, or another vehicle accelerating nearby.   During the winter months, our awareness on the road needs to be at an all-time high.  Get to your gatherings safe and sound to make your holiday stress-free.

Here are some tips for drivers with hearing loss:

– Using a cell phone while driving is definitely not recommended and is illegal in most states. According to the National Transpiration Safety Board, the use of any cell phone, including hands-free devices, causes a significant distraction. About 10% of all motor vehicle accidents are attributed to distracted drivers.

– Keep the radio volume to a minimum so you can hear traffic sounds.

– If having a conversation while driving distracts you, ask your passengers to talk to you unless necessary. You can’t read lips while driving!

– Make frequent use of all mirrors when changing lanes and passing because audible cues are not as easy for hearing impaired to pick up on.

– Check your turn signal indicator occasionally to make sure it’s not blinking needlessly. Turn signals are not designed for people with hearing loss and can be difficult to hear over the sound of traffic, engine noise, and the radio

 

If you feel as if you’re not hearing the sounds of the road, schedule a visit with an audiologist.  Whether you are a hearing aid wearer or not, there is plenty you can do to keep yourself safe while getting from point A to point B.

21st Century Technology Leads to Better Hearing

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In the good old days, hearing aids weren’t very smart.  Hearing aids amplified sound the same, whether the sound was soft or loud, low-pitched or high-pitched, in front of you or behind you.  Technology was very inferior and it provided audiologists very little room for adjustments.

Fortunately, today’s hearing aids are much smarter.  The 21st-century digital hearing aid monitors the sounds around you and processes them automatically based on a program custom designed for your hearing pattern.

For example, someone might have good hearing for low-pitched sounds but have a significant hearing loss for high-pitched sounds.  For this person, the instruments are programmed to provide no amplification where the hearing is good and significant amplification for the high-pitched sounds.

Many people with hearing loss can hear loud sounds just fine.  It’s the softer sounds that are a problem.  Hearing aids can be programmed to amplify soft sounds a lot, but not amplify loud sounds at all.  The amount of loudness control can be varied for each individual.

We usually want to pay most attention to the person in front of us.  Directional microphones provide more amplification for sounds coming from the front (and less amplification for sounds from the back). Digital technology allows the hearing aids to control that directionality automatically and more precisely.

As microchips have gotten smaller and much, much faster, engineers, programmers have used the advanced processing capabilities to improve on older techniques.  For example, wireless connectivity uses technology similar to Bluetooth to connect to a telephone or television.  With this technology, the caller’s voice or TV sound is sent directly to both hearing aids.  Thanks to this connectivity, many people with hearing loss hear better on a cell phone than someone with normal hearing.

Telecoils have always been important for some people with hearing loss. Today’s telephone detection capability allows the hearing aid to know when a telephone is brought up to the ear and automatically switch to the telephone mode, allowing the hearing aid to amplify sound from the telephone (and not amplify any other sounds in the environment.)

Other smart functions we take for granted include feedback reduction programs to virtually eliminate that annoying squeal, speech recognition algorithms and noise reduction technology.  All these functions require a smart hearing aid with lightning fast microprocessors.

Millions of people around the world have benefited from these advances.  Of course, hearing aids still can’t restore “normal hearing.” Ironically, the most common complaints that remain involve other man-made technologies, such as movies, television, and the telephone.  Still, we’ve come a long way from the days when hearing aids weren’t very smart.  And who knows what advances we’ll see in the future?

 

Check out some of the most modern technology provided by our hearing aid manufacturers:

Oticon

ReSound

Phonak

The Successful Hearing Aid User

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Audiology researchers studied 160 hearing aid users to determine which factors contribute to successful hearing aid use.  Of the five factors identified, only one was related to hearing loss itself.  The other four factors were related to personality or attitude.

The most important factors contributing to successful hearing aid use were:

Family support: The most important factor for success was the positive support of family and friends.  There was high agreement with statements such as “The people around me think it was wise to get hearing aids,” and “The people around me think I hear better with my hearing aids.”  Having your friends or family involved and bringing them with you to your appointments can help them understand your hearing loss.  They are also the individuals who are most familiar with your hearing loss so they will serve as an unbiased onlooker who can tell you if the aids are serving their purpose or not.

Personal Attitude: Individuals who had a positive attitude about hearing aids and were comfortable handling them were successful users.  Keeping a positive attitude both before and after obtaining hearing aids can also contribute to success.

Hearing difficulty: Those who reported more hearing difficulties were more likely to be successful hearing aid users. Due to the fact that they’ve faced more hurdles and missed out on more dialogue, people with more hearing difficulty are more likely to notice even the most subtle of changes.  Whether is the squeaking of your shoes or the subtle taps of a symbol on a drum, it amazes individuals on what details they were missing out on.

Implications: The results from this and other research suggest that:

– Family members should be involved in the hearing rehabilitation process.

– The process should include a “thorough exploration of the effects of the hearing loss.”

– Instruction and demonstration of the handling of the hearing aids contribute to successful use

Does Your Doctor Look for Hearing Loss?

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We get our eyes checked, we get our teeth checked but we don’t always give our ears the same level of care.  The invisible handicap of hearing loss is one that most people tend to put on the back burner.  One way can change this is by encouraging our primary care physicians to make this a routine part of their care.

Hearing loss is one of the most common chronic health conditions and has important implications for patients’ quality of life.  However, hearing loss is substantially undetected and untreated.”  That was the conclusion in an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The authors recommended that physicians screen for hearing loss during routine physical examinations of their patients over the age of 55.  Despite these recommendations, only about 10% of the primary care physicians screen their adult patients for hearing loss.

You can help by encouraging your own doctor to screen for hearing loss.  Your doctor may appreciate hearing about the difference good hearing health care has made in your life.  Taking away the negative connotations that surround hearing loss is the first step in getting doctors to detect early signs of loss.  Studies have shown that on average people wait 7+ years to address their hearing problems.  Whether that is their own stubbornness or that they were never made aware by their doctor, this is 7+ years with a loss in quality of life.

2017 has just begun but we should all make a whole hearted effort to put our health at the top of our resolution list.  Hearing health can be correlated to a multitude of health problems so getting your hearing checked would be a great start towards improving your well-being.