“I can hear fine. I just hear what I want to.” Or maybe, “I can hear, I just can’t understand what some people are saying. They’re just mumbling”.
We, as Audiologists, hear these comments every week. I usually reply by saying “I have no doubt that you can hear, but we need to find out exactly how well you can hear the total range of sounds.” Hearing acuity is measured by how softly you can hear a sound, but a complete hearing evaluation is more than just listening for beeps. We test for hearing the volume of a sound AS WELL AS the clarity of the spoken word.
If you’ve ever had a hearing evaluation before, then you are familiar with listening for the beeps and letting us know when you hear it; even if it is just barely audible. It’s not unusual that most people hear some sounds (pitch or frequency) better than other sounds. We are mostly concerned about the sounds in the speech frequency range. When all of the sounds in the speech frequency range (low pitch and high pitch) are NOT easily heard at softer levels, then you are experiencing some loss of hearing acuity which affects the ability to understand conversation.
Let’s discuss some of the consequences of not following through with the professional recommendation for hearing aids.
A decrease in hearing sensitivity is associated with diminished cognitive function, poorer mental health, and social withdrawal.
A separate study at Johns Hopkins found that cognitive diminishment was 41 percent greater in seniors with hearing loss. The study identified a link between the degree of hearing loss and the risk of developing dementia. Individuals with mild hearing loss were twice as likely to develop dementia, those with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely, and those with severe hearing loss were five times as likely to develop dementia when compared to individuals with normal hearing.
Researchers and hearing care professionals have long understood the link between cognition and hearing acuity. When you are listening to someone speak your brain is processing the sound so that you can understand it. A listener with untreated hearing loss is trying to understand degraded speech signals therefore their brain has to work harder to process those sounds. While your brain is busy working to understand incoming speech signals other tasks like memory and comprehension can suffer.
The link between hearing loss and cognition is widespread. Many articles and research findings that support this fact have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, PubMed articles, Journal of Geriatrics, Journal of Aging and Health, American Journal of Medicine, and the list goes on.
Our sense of hearing isn’t just an ear issue; it’s an overall health and quality of life issue. Hearing aids help process incoming sound, making it easier for your brain to understand them. Other benefits of hearing aids include reduced mental fatigue, decreased feelings of social isolation and depression, improved ability to do several things at once, improved memory, attention and focus, as well as improved communication skills.
One of my favorite sayings from a lecture that I attended years ago is “You can’t remember what you don’t hear”.