Healthy hearing is critical for living well, but it is not always taken seriously. Hearing loss is often overlooked as a normal part of aging. It is frequently hidden due to stigma or disregarded because people think they “do fine most of the time.” In fact, according to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), less than 20% of adults who could benefit from wearing a hearing aid use one.
But hearing loss is not something to ignore. It can hinder your job performance, dampen your social life, and lower your confidence. Most importantly, it can separate you from the people and activities that matter most to you.
Luckily, accepting and treating your hearing loss can make all the difference. It certainly did for me. The first step is to normalize regular hearing screenings, just like those done for vision, high blood pressure and other potential health issues. The sooner a hearing loss is detected, the sooner you can do something about it.
Hearing loss can lead to social isolation, but there are many medical reasons for taking your hearing health seriously too. Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes and there is a high correlation between hearing loss and cardiovascular disease.
Hearing loss is also linked to a higher risk of falls. People with even a mild hearing loss are nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling and these risks increase as the degree of loss worsens.
Most alarmingly, hearing loss is also associated with a higher likelihood of developing dementia. According to a 2010 Johns Hopkins study, those with even mild hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia, and this likelihood increases with higher degrees of hearing loss. But don’t panic. Hearing loss does not mean someone will develop dementia. Additional studies have shown that treating hearing loss lowers these risks.
Recognizing the signs of hearing loss can be tricky because the onset is often gradual. If two or more of the typical indicators of hearing loss listed below are true, it may be time to get your hearing tested.
The pandemic unmasked hearing loss for many people as they realized how much harder it was to understand speech without the visual cues that they may have been using to lipread.
You know someone is talking to you, but you have trouble understanding what they are saying. Perhaps it seems like they are mumbling or slurring their words together. If this happens frequently, it is probably due to hearing loss.
This is the one sign only others will notice. Turning on the closed captions may help you fill in the blanks you are missing, but it won’t erase the hearing loss.
If you have started to avoid socializing or talking on the phone, you could be at risk for one of the most dangerous side effects of hearing loss—isolation, and depression. Using speech-to-text apps or sound amplifier apps may help in these settings, but a hearing evaluation is needed.
When you have hearing loss, understanding speech takes work. You must constantly combine the incomplete sounds you are hearing with visual and context clues. This is not easy, especially since the conversation does not stop while you are doing this extra processing. This mental activity is known as listening effort, and it can lead to hearing loss exhaustion.
Getting the facts through a hearing test is an important first step. If the diagnosis is hearing loss, then you can begin to do something about it. I recommend learning as much as you can about hearing loss from your hearing care professional but augmenting this with information from other people with hearing loss. You may not know any, but it is easy to find them online.
Facebook has many hearing loss groups (mine is Living With Hearing Loss) where you can read posts, ask questions, and pick up useful tips and tricks for better communication. Or pick up a hearing loss book or two. My book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, co-authored with Gael Hannan, shares our formula for living well with hearing loss.
Your hearing health is not something to be ignored. If you are having trouble hearing, take that first step and get your hearing tested today.
NOTE: A great place to start is with our free online hearing screener. You can even discuss the results with one of our personal hearing professionals – all with no obligation.
Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. Connect with Shari: Blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.