During the holiday season, our family’s celebrations often revolve around grandparents and other older adults. As several of them have some level of hearing loss, I always remind my kids to enunciate their words and speak loudly so their grandparents feel included in the conversation and we all enjoy our time together.
As the years pass, I’ve noticed my dad doing more of the “smile and nod” during our celebrations and I realize that he’s not hearing — or understanding — the full conversation and is missing out on some of the fun. When he wears his hearing aids he is much more engaged and enthusiastic about what’s happening around him.
Recently, I was challenged to take a closer look at what can happen when people DON’T get hearing aid devices.
Susie Ternes, an audiologist for Via Christi, addressed the negative effect hearing loss can have, particularly on senior adults, and the positive impact hearing aids can provide.
It’s no surprise that people who don’t hear well may experience many emotions: Frustration, anger, denial, isolation, decreased self-esteem, embarrassment, loneliness and depression. However, they may also be at a greater risk of early death, Ternes says.
Referencing the book, “The Blue Zone,” authored by Dan Buettner, Ternes says people who live to be centenarians do more than eat a healthy diet and stay active — they maintain strong relationships and lead active social lives. The Blue Zone is a concept used to identify demographic and/or geographic areas of the world where people live measurably longer lives and to determine why. The research shows that positive relationships are the common denominator shared by those who reach 100-plus years of age in the regions where there are a high percentage of centenarians.
So what does this have to do with hearing? Dementia is one of the prime indicators in predicting early death in senior adults. Depression has been linked to dementia. The impact of heating loss often leads to depression, making hearing loss a potential risk factor for dementia and early death.
The brain needs to stay healthy and active to function at optimum and help maintain overall good health. The best ways to maintain brain health are physical activity, cognitive engagement and interacting with people, Ternes says. But, it’s difficult to communicate when you can’t hear.
Hearing is a “brain thing,” she says. The brain interprets the incoming sound and gives the sound meaning. When the signal is compromised due to hearing loss, the brain has to work harder to fill in the missing gaps and the level of understanding — and enjoyment — of the message or sound is reduced, increasing the likelihood of isolation, depression and disengagement.
Hearing aids provide better hearing with less effort by giving the brain the clearest, purest signal to decode, she says. When people understand and can react to what they are hearing, they are much more likely to socialize and create positive relationships, improving their lifestyle and their longevity.
Ternes went on to explain the latest technology in hearing devises, including Bluetooth accessories that allow the wearer to receive phone calls directly to their aid, rather than speaking on a telephone. There are many hearing aids and devises that can dramatically enhance hearing and the ability to have positive interactions.
One in three people between the ages of 65 and 74, and one in two over the age of 75 have some hearing loss. It’s likely that an older adult in your family is one of them. And, as Ternes said, when someone in the family has hearing loss, the whole family has a hearing problem.
It’s not difficult to determine if someone you know has a hearing loss that could benefit from a hearing aid. If you or a loved shows signs of impaired hearing, please speak with your primary care physician or an audiologist and take the first step to improved relationships and quality of life for the whole family.