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Beacon Senior News

Good hearing = healthy brain

Aug 02, 2018 05:32AM ● By Kathleen McCarthy

Annoyance, inconvenience or worse? Hearing loss happens so slowly and subtly that we may think that all we need to do is adjust and learn to live with it. So we’ll turn up the volume on the TV and radio, and really focus in conversations so we hear what people have to say.

Hearing loss doesn’t slow down as we get older. A third of us who are 65 years old have some hearing loss. By the time we’re 75, more than half of us will have difficulty hearing.

The everyday effects

Hearing loss that develops with age is called presbycusis. It’s when the piercing sounds of sirens, smoke alarms and doorbells aren’t heard. We also notice that sounds get distorted and messages get twisted. One might hear “Use the eggs in the bag” when what your wife really said was “use the ice from the bag.”

Hearing loss that goes on for some time makes people depressed, anxious and paranoid. This can worsen to the point of less socialization, and it can lead to other problems like dementia, falls, hospitalizations, accidents and deconditioning both mentally and physically.

How it happens

There are a few reasons why hearing loss develops. It tends to run in families without any specific explanation. It also can result from noisy environments, childhood infections, medications, heart disease or stroke. Injury to our hearing occurs in mostly two ways: when the auditory nerve is traumatized and doesn’t allow electrical impulses to get to the brain, and structural damage to tiny hair cells, the ear canal or the eardrum so that vibration of the sound waves can’t travel to the inner ear to transmit the signals to the brain.

How to manage it

Many public places such as museums, theaters and auditoriums have ear buds or earphones available for patrons. At home, personal listening systems can be connected to the telephone, laptop computer or television. These devices improve the clarity of sound and deliver the sound that you want to hear.

Visit a hearing specialist—they can test your hearing and suggest how to best manage the changes in hearing. Hearing aids are now considered tiny microcomputers. This latest technology has several computer programs within the hearing aid that respond to and handle various sounds. They can be fine tuned to give you the sounds that mostly closely fit what you are used to hearing. They will also improve the sounds you want to hear as well as block background noise that you can happily go without.

Use it; don't lose it

There’s a sense of urgency by health professionals to treat hearing loss. A new finding from MRI studies has shown that substantial brain shrinking occurs for those who don’t have normal hearing. Although some brain shrinkage is expected with aging, there is considerably more with hearing loss. Scientists now know that hearing is not one isolated function. It has several pathways that are interconnected with many areas of the brain. These areas rely on hearing to stay stimulated.

Our entire brain benefits when we hear well. Additional researchers have found that those who use hearing aids have higher cognitive functioning than those without them, and those who use hearing devices on a regular basis lower their chance of dementia.