The Most Common Sensory Impairment: Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is one of the most common sensory impairment in the western world. According to Hearing Loss charity, Action On Hearing Loss, over 9 million UK individuals are suspected to suffer from hearing loss. The biggest group are the over 65s (just over 6 million).
Left unmanaged, hearing loss has the potential to lower an individual’s quality of life and lead to behavioral changes.
It is also increasingly linked to the progression of Dementia and Alzheimer.
Hearing loss due to ageing (sensorineural hearing loss) is a natural process that is often traced back to an individual’s mid 40s rather than the later years. However, the process is incredibly gradational, so it takes many years before it has a tangible impact on a daily basis. The cochlea part within the inner ear contains tiny hair like receptors that under the microscope look similar to hair cells. These tiny receptors capture waves and vibrations in the air. The information is sent to the brain by means of the hearing pathway where it is processed.
As the body matures, the quality and quantity of the inner ear hair cells diminish resulting in hearing impairment. The body is unable to repair the damaged hair cells or grow replacements therefore hearing loss of the age related type is permanent. Commons symptoms include:
- Muffled sounds or speech
- Difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy situations
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves or to speak slower
- Needing to turn up the volume on the television or stereo in order to hear it
- Avoiding conversations
Individuals who leave in a challenging muted world where hearing loss is left unmanaged may disengage from social interaction as the condition worsens.
To keep up during conversations, these individuals have to spend tremendous amount of energy focusing on every word, trying to fill in blanks and at times, asking others to repeat their words. Spending such high levels of energy every single time, even during the most basic and informal conversation is exhausting and after a while, it may seem ‘easier’ to simply avoid conversation by disengaging from social interaction.
At times, family members, caregivers and friends attribute this behavioral to personality change, though it is often traced back to lack of hearing and exhaustion. Furthermore, several studies have concluded that cognitive decline, such as the byproduct of lack of socialising is thought to progress the development of dementia.
To elevate any hearing concerns, individuals should attend a hearing test. The test will measure hearing level against the norm and diagnose the precise cause or causes behind it. Once the results are in, the individual will likely be presented with a number of options to manage the condition based on hearing aids amplification. The most common are digital hearing aids that reside around or in the ear and are useful in an entire array of daily situations. Other aids are more focused around solving one particular task such as amplified phones, personal alerting devices and even hearing aids for the TV.
If you have any hearing related concerns, visit your family doctor for a basic test or local hearing audiologist.