Most Baby Boomers address their hearing with a series of simple questions.
Can I hear my children when they call me on the phone? Yes.
Can I hear the television? Check.
Are my ears causing me discomfort (i.e. ringing, pain)? Nope.
And that’s the “test” for many Americans aged 60 and older. No harm. No foul. No formal assessment from a team of health care professionals.
However, Baby Boomers must take the possibility of hearing loss seriously. Why? Well, hearing loss may be linked to more than your ability to hear. It may be connected to your ability to think.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, hearing loss may increase your risk of cognitive problems and even dementia, a condition marked by memory loss and trouble with thinking, problem-solving and other mental tasks.
Gradual hearing loss is a common symptom of aging, but a study from researchers at Trinity College Dublin suggests that age-related hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline and dementia. The risk of impairment of hearing, vision and other senses increases with age, and almost 15 percent of individuals age 70 and older have dementia.
Protect Brain Health
One in three cases of dementia could be prevented by addressing important lifestyle factors, including taking actions to avoid hypertension, hearing loss, diabetes, depression and obesity, according to a report from the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care. By taking steps to address lifestyle factors early on, the incidence of dementia could be reduced by as much as 20 percent.
Social engagement is one of the activities that protects brain health. If you suffer from hearing loss, you may miss out on more than just conversations. If your ears can no longer pick up on as many sounds, your hearing nerves will send fewer signals to your brain. As a result, your chances for mental decline seem to go up the worse your hearing is. When you strain to hear, your brain experiences cognitive overload, and works harder to decipher what people are saying. It doesn’t have the time to put the information into your memory bank. As areas of your brain go unused, they shrink or get taken over for other duties—and that means less resources for other tasks like memory.
It is often hard to separate the signs of hearing loss from those of dementia, and often one condition may mimic the other. Like any medical condition, the sooner you seek treatment, the better your outcome will be. Because hearing loss often occurs gradually, it can be difficult to recognize when you have it. The only way to know for sure is to get your hearing checked.
Get Your Hearing Assessment
A hearing assessment begins with an audiologist asking routine questions. The testing is easy and painless, taking about 30 minutes. (Allow 60 minutes for a typical appointment.) The visit may include four parts:
An otoscopy, which is an ear exam conducted by an audiologist or hearing specialist using an otoscope to look at the three parts of the ear. He/she will use an otoscope, an instrument that features a light bulb, magnifying lens and a cone that is inserted into the ear canal.
Baseline hearing assessment, which determines the severity of future hearing loss and will dictate a specific course of action to address the damage. The baseline hearing assessment can determine which type of hearing loss you may have.
Speech understanding assessment, which indicates how well you can understand speech in a noisy environment.
Familiar voice test, which requires one of your family members to attend the appointment. Your family member will step outside the room (about eight feet away) and pronounce a series of words. Then, the test will be repeated with different words from 12 to 15 feet away.
Preserve Memory, Brain Function for Baby Boomers
If your hearing assessment reveals a hearing loss, you aren’t alone. Nearly half of Baby Boomers have a form of hearing loss—but there is hope. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 28.8 million U.S. adults can benefit from using a hearing aid.
A study conducted at Columbia University Medical Center found that using a hearing aid may offer a simple, yet important, way to prevent or slow the development of dementia by keeping adults with hearing loss engaged in conversation and communication.
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