Hearing loss is increasingly common as we grow older. Almost one third of people over the age of 65 have some form of it. After 75, that statistic soars to nearly 50 percent.
As hearing loss worsens, older adults often experience a decline in cognitive health. Research from The Johns Hopkins University found that adults who have hearing loss experience cognitive decline 30 to 40 percent faster than those without hearing loss.
Scientists attribute this decline to the brain having to work harder as hearing becomes more impaired. Connections in the brain reorganize themselves in an effort to process this increased workload. This results in a decline in cognitive health.
The bottom line is this: by taking steps to protect your hearing, you may also help protect your independence.
Two Types of Hearing Loss
While some kinds of hearing loss are unavoidable because they are caused by aging and genetics, others are the result of an ear injury. Here are the two primary types of hearing loss:
- Sensorineural hearing loss: This is a type of hearing loss that generally progresses very slowly. It can affect one ear differently than the other. Aging and heredity are the leading causes, but high blood pressure, ear infections, and prolonged exposure to loud noises are others. Because this type of hearing loss usually causes damage to the inner ear and auditory nerve, it is generally not reversible.
- Conductive hearing loss: This is the result of a blockage that prevents sound waves from reaching the inner ear. Punctured ear drums, buildup of wax, or fluid in the ear are the most common causes. Fortunately, this type of hearing loss can usually be treated and reversed.
Five Ways to Protect Yourself From Hearing Loss
While some types of hearing loss can’t be prevented, it’s important to protect yourself whenever you can. Use these steps to prevent hearing loss and protect cognitive health and independence:
- Don’t smoke: This one surprises many people. Tobacco use increases your risk for hearing loss. If you are a smoker, it’s just one more reason to quit.
- Investigate medication side effects: Review your medications to see if any list hearing loss as a potential side effect. If any do, discuss any concerns with the physician who prescribed the medication. There might be another option.
- Limit exposure to loud noises: Lawnmowers, snow blowers, and heavy equipment can all contribute to hearing loss. Even having the television or stereo up too loud can put you at risk. If you can’t avoid these types of noises, wear sound-cancelling headphones to protect your hearing.
- Treat earwax build-up: Some people are more prone to earwax build-up. Their ear canal might be smaller than normal or produce excessive amounts of wax. Frequent earaches, a feeling of fullness in the ear, dizziness, and tinnitus (ringing in the ear) can all be signs of an earwax impaction. Your primary care physician may need to irrigate the ear to relieve the build-up.
- Have a yearly hearing exam: Just like a yearly eye exam can help prevent vision loss, an annual hearing exam can help screen for potential hearing issues. An experienced audiologist can often spot problems early and intervene before hearing becomes impaired.
If an older adult in your family needs a little extra help to maintain their independence, contact us. We’ll be happy to discuss the wide variety of senior care options available at Sunrise communities across the world.
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