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Can Untreated Hearing Loss Lead to Dementia?


If you’re a Plano resident with hearing loss, there are bigger risks than the embarrassment of misunderstanding a word here and a phrase there. True, your date might look at you funny if you pass her a lime instead of the wine, but in the overall scheme of things this is pretty minor. Bigger problems are possible when hearing loss goes untreated, such as dementia. This is true even when your hearing loss small.

The Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognition

Person with Hearing Loss and Dementia in Plano

Hearing loss is the third most common physical condition in Plano and other communities throughout the U.S., ranking behind arthritis and heart disease. Because of its prevalence many consider hearing loss to be a nuisance and skip treating it but faking their way through the day can have dire consequences. A study conducted by Yune S. Lee, PhD, at The Ohio State University showed that even in patients who are young, minor hearing loss was associated with changes in blood flow and unusual activity in the brain’s frontal cortex. Eventually, this can lead to dementia later in life; Lee concludes that the risk for patients with mild hearing loss is twice as high as those in the general population.

There are multiple theories explaining the link between hearing loss and dementia. Several key factors include:

  • Cognitive Resource Overload. Individuals with hearing loss expend mental energy processing auditory information, diverting cognitive resources from other tasks such as memory and concentration.
  • Deterioration of Grey Matter. The auditory cortex, the region of the brain responsible for hearing, speech, and comprehension, shows diminished grey matter in patients with hearing loss. This accelerates brain shrinkage and leads to an inability to process sounds effectively.
  • Social Isolation. People with hearing loss often withdraw from social activities due to embarrassment (remember the lime/wine fiasco?) or fatigue. Straining to hear is hard work! Unfortunately, social isolation robs them of the stimulation required to keep the brain active. This starts a vicious “use-it-or-lose-it” cycle that may ultimately lead to cognitive decline.

Regardless of the exact reason for the link between hearing loss and dementia, the evidence is undeniable. More than one-third of dementia cases in adults over the age of 60 are associated with hearing loss, even after taking into account variables like sex, age, race, education, lifestyle factors and overall health. Hearing loss patients experience cognitive decline at a rate that is 30 to 40 percent faster than the general population.

Preventing Cognitive Decline

This may sound obvious, but the best way to prevent dementia associated with hearing loss is taking steps to prevent hearing loss in the first place. Short of stumbling upon the Fountain of Youth there’s not much you can do to halt the aging process, but noise exposure is the leading cause of hearing loss, and that is almost entirely preventable.

If you’re going to be participating in noisy activities – think concerts, sporting events, hunting, riding a motorcycle – wear earplugs. Turn down the volume when listening to music through headphones or earbuds, keep water out of your ears when swimming, wear a helmet when participating in contact sports, keep up to date on vaccinations, and avoid inserting objects into your ears. This includes Q-tips, safety pins, and fingers.

It’s also a good idea to make hearing evaluations a regular part of your medical routine. If you suspect you or a loved one might be experiencing hearing loss, make an appointment with your Plano audiologist today. Early intervention is the key to preventing dementia and other hearing-related problems.

 

Can Hearing Loss Be Treated?

We live in a time where we expect all of our problems to be instantly solved. Out of toilet paper? Hit a few buttons on your phone and it will be delivered to you within two hours. Need an air conditioner installed? Hire a handyman quickly and easily from an ap. But what about medical problems?

While it may seem like medicine is advancing at lightning speeds, there are still a lot of conditions that are only in the beginning stages of research. One of those is hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Treatments

Hearing Loss Tests in Plano

To be clear, I am not saying that there are no treatments for hearing loss. In order to put together a treatment plan, your Plano audiologist will need to determine your type and degree of hearing loss.

Hearing loss caused by a problem with the outer ear, ear canal, eardrum or middle ear is known as conductive hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is typically caused by:

  • Fluid in the ears
  • Malformation or abnormalities of the outer or middle ear
  • Impacted earwax
  • Foreign object in the ear
  • Allergies
  • Perforated eardrum
  • Otosclerosis
  • Benign tumors

Treatment for conductive hearing loss often consists of surgery or medications, in the form of antibiotics.

Hearing loss that occurs because of a problem with your inner ear is called sensorineural hearing loss. It may be caused by

  • Noise exposure
  • Head trauma
  • Aging (presbycusis)
  • Viral disease
  • Autoimmune ear disease
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Malformation or abnormality of the inner ear
  • Otosclerosis
  • Tumors

This is where the treatment for hearing loss gets more complicated. While conductive hearing loss can often be cured, sensorineural is typically permanent. The treatment for this type of hearing loss usually comes in the form of hearing aids.

Last but not leased we have mixed hearing loss. As the name suggests, this type of hearing loss is both conductive and sensorineural. The treatment for this type involve a combination of medication, surgery and/or hearing aids.

How Does a Hearing Aid Work?

It is important to note that while hearing aids are used as a treatment for hearing loss, they do not immediately correct the problem. Unlike glasses, which you put on and your vision is better, hearing aids take some getting used to.

Hearing aids don’t repair the damage to your inner ear. Instead, they amplify sounds so that the working part of your ear can detect and process them.

A hearing aid consists of three parts: a microphone, amplifier and speaker. Sound is picked up by the microphone, which converts them from sound waves to electrical signals. These signals are then sent to the amplifier, which increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through the speaker.

To learn more about what treatment is best for you or to schedule an appointment, contact your Plano audiologist today to get started.

 

Better Hearing & Speech Month

Even though May is almost over and done with, there is no time like the present to discuss the importance of Better Hearing & Speech Month.

In 1927, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) created Better Hearing & Speech Month. The goal of the month-long event was to help raise awareness of hearing loss and speech problems. It became so popular that in 1986, President Reagan issued a formal proclamation designating May as the official month to heighten public awareness about hearing loss and speech disorders.

In addition to educating others about hearing and speech disorders, it can help encourage those who may be suffering in silence to take action.

How Your Plano Audiologist is Helping

Better Hearing & Speech Month

There are nearly 48 million people in Texas and throughout the country with hearing loss but only 20 percent of them seek treatment. One of the ways your Plano audiologist can see these numbers increase is by teaching their patients about the benefits of hearing aids.

Getting a hearing aid can do a lot more than simply improve your ability to hear. Below are the top benefits users see when they decide to finally seek treatment.

Improved General Health

Those living with untreated hearing loss may see an increase in feelings of depression, anger and anxiety. Untreated hearing loss can also increase your risk of cognitive decline and physical injuries, especially falls.

An increased risk of falling should be taken seriously, as it is the leading cause of death from injury among people 65 and older.

Improved Quality of Life

Better Hearing Institute (BHI) surveyed 2,000 individuals with hearing loss and found that in addition to seeing improvements in their ability to communicate, those who used a hearing aid saw an increase in their:

  • Romance
  • Sense of Humor
  • Mental Health
  • Emotional Health
  • Physical Health
  • Sense of Safety
  • Self-Confidence
  • Feelings about Self
  • Sense of Independence
  • Work Relationships

Improved Emotional Well-Being

Living in a hearing world with untreated hearing loss often requires you to rely on others for assistance. Getting a hearing aid can help you regain your independence and sense of control.

It can also reduce periods of social isolation and lead to healthier and longer-lasting relationships.

Those who choose to use a hearing aid to treat their hearing loss have higher self-esteem and a better quality of life than those who don’t.

Improved Professional Success

Not being able to hear can make it harder and more difficult to concentrate and communicate. This can be seen in a reduction in job performance and less monetary compensation.

In fact, a new study suggests that untreated hearing loss can make learning things harder, which can lead to problems storing new information.

To learn more about Better Hearing & Speech Month or the benefits of treating your hearing loss, contact your Plano audiologist today.

Hearing Aid Repair

The sad truth of the matter is that everything you buy will eventually need to be repaired. While some things, like a furnace, require a professional to work on it, other items can be fiddled with by amateurs.

Fortunately, if you are one of the 48 million people in Plano, Texas, or around the country with hearing loss, hearing aids fall into both categories. There are many simple repairs and troubleshooting that you can do yourself. For more advanced problems, you will need to contact your Plano audiologist.

Cleaning Your Hearing Aid

Tools - Plano TX

Think about it – your hearing aids spend all day in your ear. Not only is your ear damp, but the device comes into contact with earwax and other debris. The hearing aid has a number of tiny holes and spaces that are just waiting to get clogged.

Your hearing aid needs to be cleaned every day; you should use a dry tissue or cloth to do the cleaning. The earmold itself can be removed from the rest of the device and washed with a mild soap solution. Make sure the earmold is completely dry before reattaching to the hearing aid.

To prevent moisture from becoming trapped inside your hearing aid, your Plano audiologist recommends opening the battery compartment and removing the battery every night before bed. This gives your device a chance to dry out. You can also invest in a dryer or dehumidifier to eliminate moisture.

Having Trouble Hearing?

If your hearing aid is not helping you hear better, it is useless to you.

Below is a checklist of things you should try at home if your hearing aid is not working:

Make sure your hearing aid is on. This is often overlooked but you sure will be mad at yourself later if this was the problem and you never even checked.

Turn the volume up. It is easy for the settings or volume controls to get turned down or altered.

Check the batteries. The batteries used in hearing aids do not drain like normal batteries. Instead, they seem to go from full strength to depleted in an instant. You can check the batteries with a battery tester and replace them if necessary.

If you follow these steps and are still having problems, now is the time to contact your Plano audiologist. They will take a closer look at your hearing aid and will often be able to perform the repair in the office.

 

Top 5 Symptoms of Hearing Loss

According to your local Plano audiologist, hearing loss is a progressive condition. This means that the symptoms appear gradually and it usually takes people a while to realize they are losing their hearing. This is one of the reasons most wait an average of seven years before they seek help for their hearing loss.

As with any medical condition, the sooner you seek treatment, the better the results. In order to identify your condition early, you will need to be aware of the symptoms.

According to your Plano audiologist, the most common symptoms of hearing loss are below.

Having trouble following conversations with background noise.

Top 5 Symptoms of Hearing Loss - Sharp Hearing Center

Trying to have a conversation in a loud environment is hard, even with normal hearing. Those with hearing loss have an even harder time distinguishing speech from sound. Their brains have to work harder, which can lead to mental and physical exhaustion.

Frequently asking people to repeat themselves.

Those in the early stages of their hearing loss may find themselves missing a word here or a sentence there. This can become increasingly exasperating, especially when in order to understand fully, you must ask people to repeat themselves. This is also frustrating for your conversation partners. Contact your Plano audiologist today to help alleviate the burden you are placing on both yourself and your family and friends.

Turning the volume on the television or radio up.

An easy way to tell if your hearing has gotten worse is to see what you set the volume of your television to. Does it seem particularly high? Then it is time to make an appointment with your audiologist.

If I may interject with a PSA about the volume settings on the television and radio – please turn the volume down before turning off a device. Your family members do not deserve to terrified by a burst of sound because they innocently turned on the television.

Avoiding social gatherings.

Untreated hearing loss can increase your feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness. These feelings are often escalated when you begin turning down invitations to social events, as it simply becomes easier to stay home than it does to deal with the frustration that comes from not being able to communicate with others.

Feeling like others mumble when they speak.

A complaint commonly heard by Plano audiologist is that people around their patients have started to mumble. While we are not here to discount the possibility that everyone around you has become a mumbler, the most likely scenario is that this is you. Hearing loss makes it harder to hear others, especially women and children.

Knowing the signs of hearing loss can help you identify it early. Contact your Plano audiologist today to learn more about hearing loss or to schedule an appointment.

Types of Hearing Tests

Your Plano audiologist will need to run a series of tests in order to determine your type and degree of hearing loss. This information is important as it is what they base their treatment recommendations on.  

Below are the seven most common tests that make up a comprehensive audiology evaluation. Keep in mind, not every test is required.   

Pure Tone Testing

Types of Hearing Tests

Pure tone audiometry, more commonly known as pure-tone testing, uses air conduction to measure your ability to hear sounds of various pitches and volumes. You will wear a set of headphones and a series of tones will be played. You will be asked to either raise your hand, press a button or respond verbally every time you detect a tone.   

The results from this test are recorded on an audiogram, which is just a visual representation of your hearing loss.  

Bone Conduction Testing 

This method is another type of pure-tone testing but instead of relying on aid conduction it uses bone. This allows the tester to measure your inner ear’s response to sounds while bypassing any damage or blockage in the outer or middle ear.  

A small device is placed behind the ear. It sends out a vibration that passes through the skull bone to reach the inner ear. 

If the results of this test are different than the air conduction test, your Plano hearing specialist can use this information to determine if you have conductive or sensorineural hearing loss. 

Speech Testing 

Speech (or word recognition) testing is used to measure your speech reception threshold (SRT), which is also known as the faintest speech you can understand 50 percent of the time. The results from this are compared with your pure-tone test results in order to confirm the diagnosis. Your ability to separate speech from background noise will also be recorded. 

 This test can be administered in either a quiet or noisy environment. Like the other tests, the results from your speech testing will be recorded on an audiogram.  

Tympanometry  

 Tympanometry is used to detect fluid, wax buildup, eardrum perforations and tumors in the middle ear. It measures movement of the eardrum in response to air pressure; the results are recorded on a chart called a tympanogram.  

Acoustic Reflex Test  

The acoustic reflex test measures involuntary muscle contractions of the middle ear and is used to determine the location of your hearing problem (the ossicles, cochlea, auditory nerve, etc.) as well as the type of hearing loss. 

Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) 

Auditory brainstem response testing is used to determine whether you are suffering from sensorineural hearing loss. ABR is also commonly used to screen newborns for hearing problems. 

In an ABR test, electrodes are attached to your head, scalp or earlobes and you are given headphones to wear. Your brainwave activity is measured in response to sounds of varying intensities.  

Otoacoustic Emissions (OAES) 

Otoacoustic emissions (OAEs) are faint sounds generated by the vibrations of the hair cells in the cochlea of your inner ear. Those with normal hearing will produce these emissions; those with a hearing loss exceeding 25 to 30 decibels will not.   

A tiny probe fitted with a microphone and speaker is used to test for OAEs. The speaker stimulates the cochlea and the probe measures the response.  

This test helps determine whether there is a blockage in the ear canal, excess fluid in the middle ear or damage to the hair cells of the cochlea. OAE testing is often included in newborn hearing screening programs. 

As you can see, there are many tests that may be used to determine your type and degree of hearing loss. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, contact your Plano audiologist today.