In America today, about 48 million people are living with hearing loss. While hearing loss can be present in children and young people, the most common kind of hearing loss is age-related hearing loss—or “presbycusis.”
We often think that age-related hearing loss only happens to “old” people, but that’s not the case. Age-related hearing loss typically begins in a person’s 40s. While only about 10% of those in their 40s have significant hearing loss, there is a significant jump in high-frequency hearing loss for those in their 50s. About one-third of those aged 60–69 have speech-frequency hearing loss, and about two-thirds of those in their 70s have it. Nearly 100% of centenarians have hearing loss, suggesting we’ll all experience it eventually, if we only live long enough.
Despite the wide prevalence of age-related hearing loss, only about one out of five people who need them are currently wearing hearing aids. On average, it takes a person seven years from the time they notice problematic hearing loss to the time they do something about it and schedule a hearing test.
Hearing Loss Is Not Benign
While it may be understandable that no one is eager to start wearing hearing aids, the effects that untreated hearing loss can have on our health, well-being, and lifestyle should inspire us to be less reticent. Untreated hearing loss tends to set off a cascade of negative health outcomes, including depression, social isolation, increased risk of accidental injury, cognitive decline, and dementia.
But why not just wait a little while until your hearing loss gets bad? Surely, it can’t hurt to live a few years with mild hearing loss, then get hearing aids if and when our hearing loss becomes more problematic, right?
Unfortunately, I was wrong. Even mild hearing loss significantly increases social fatigue, which may not sound all that bad until you find yourself loathing the idea of meeting up with your friends. Especially when background sound is present, mild hearing loss can make it nearly impossible to follow a conversation. Those with untreated mild hearing loss also report getting less physical activity than those with normal hearing, as well as a worse subjective assessment of their memory. And untreated mild hearing loss even puts us at double the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Treat Hearing Loss as Soon as it is Recommended
By starting to treat your hearing loss early, you not only prevent negative outcomes for your health, but you improve your experience of life in ways you might never realize. Hearing loss creeps in slowly, and many of its effects we would never have foreseen. Many people who are new to hearing loss even mistake the exhaustion it brings for a separate age-related condition—” I just can’t stay out as late as I used to.” A good set of hearing aids would allow them to enjoy social time and feel as energetic as they’re used to feeling. By getting a set of hearing aids as soon as they’re recommended by a hearing care professional, you’ll avoid the slow adaptation to all kinds of unforeseen consequences.
Another reason to treat hearing loss early is that it’s easier. The longer you wait to start wearing hearing aids, the harder it will be. Our brains adjust to hearing loss over time, and our auditory cortex will even begin to atrophy. We can lose the ability to listen, even when we’re able to hear perfectly. This is why so many hearing care providers offer training courses with new hearing aids: If you’ve waited a long time to start wearing them, it will take a long time to get used to them!
Hearing Aids are Better than Ever
If you are starting to have hearing issues, you’re in luck. Hearing aids have never been better! Today’s hearing aids are not the bulky, whistling units we remember from the 1990s. Great strides have been made even in the last few years, and many hearing aids are now offered with rechargeable batteries. Wireless Bluetooth connectivity is nearly ubiquitous, and this allows you to not only stream phone calls and media but to control the volume and programming of your hearing aids through an app provided by the manufacturer. Powerful software allows them to prioritize the sound of speech over background sound, improving speech comprehension in some situations to better than normal hearing.
If you or a loved one may be having hearing issues, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out how hearing aids can help you keep living your best life!