Start Living Your Best Life Now - How Treating Your Hearing Loss Will Change Your Life
By Laura Dennison, Au.D., BC-HIS
There are approximately 48 million people in the United States who have hearing loss – and I am one of them. As an audiologist since 1978 I didn’t have any trepidation about treating my loss, but it was still a bit of a shock. My ears started ringing non-stop in 2006, a common condition known as tinnitus. I’d never worked around noise, didn’t go to loud concerts, but I was taking ibuprofen regularly for my arthritic feet. I did some research and found that that could be the source of my tinnitus, although mine didn’t go away when I stopped taking it. I was only 52. About a year later I had developed a loss in my right ear, which I treated, and a year after that my left ear joined the party. So I have been wearing terrific digital technology for about 10 years now, and I would be lost without it. I’ve been wearing glasses since I was nine years old, my glasses are the first things I put on in the morning and the last thing I take off at night. Honestly, I never could imagine my hearing aids becoming the same way – but they did. Even though I have a mild to moderate hearing loss everything seems kind of flat or two dimensional if I don’t have them on. With my hearing aids on the world comes alive and I feel completely normal. Do I still miss things? Yes, occasionally, but I’m so much better with them than without.
I have been tremendously lucky to have had a career that allowed me to help thousands of people be able to live their best lives by keeping them connected to the people they love, the things they love to do and being able to stay actively engaged in everything going on around them. My biggest frustration was when I knew how much this new technology could do for someone and they wouldn’t even acknowledge that there was a problem. It gives me great joy to see my son have the same passion for helping people stay connected to the people and activities in their lives that I had.
“Outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens.”
There are many reasons people choose not to accept treatment for their hearing loss. They are afraid of making a costly mistake, they are afraid of looking old; they have constricted their lives and interactions in order to convince themselves they don’t have a problem. They are afraid to admit how much they are struggling. But what it really boils down to is fear of leaving that comfort zone.
My goal in writing this is to help you move out of that comfort zone and get the help you need so that you aren’t living in isolation. I used to get so mad at my Grandmother. She didn’t want to do anything about her loss so when she would mishear something she would say “I’m just going to sit over here and mind my own business”. We didn’t want that – we wanted her to engage and be involved. And your family wants that too!
You may have been putting off getting your hearing tested for a long time. You are not alone. Let’s face it; we all have a fear of the unknown. We are afraid that maybe we’ll find out people really aren’t always mumbling, or that having a hearing loss means we’re old, and various other things we may be thinking but don’t say out loud.
People have always assumed that hearing loss just occurred with aging and it didn’t really matter if you did anything about it. For some reason, hearing loss is the one age related change we’re just willing to accept. People, on average, wait seven years from the time they first start noticing some increased difficulty with their hearing before they go for their first hearing test. This delay, however, is not without consequence. There are several recent studies showing links between hearing loss and dementia and cognitive decline. Furthermore, these studies point to the treatment of hearing loss as the number one way to prevent dementia. Addressing hearing loss is more effective than any medication currently on the market.
It has not been completely established what the connection between hearing and dementia is, but the most common theory is that when you have untreated hearing loss, your brain is working so hard to understand what you are listening to, that you don’t have room to actually remember it. This, in a nutshell, creates cognitive overload. Now, we are certainly not saying that if you have a loss and you don’t get hearing aids that you are guaranteed to get dementia, but it does increase your risk. There have also been studies conducted that involve giving a simulated hearing loss to young adults and then conducted the cognitive tests used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. These young adults showed early signs of the disease simply because they had hearing loss. If nothing else, this shows that a hearing test should be one of the first steps in assessing someone’s cognitive ability.