We “Baby Boomers” are not getting any younger. As we age into retirement and start to enjoy our “leisure years,” we want to make the most of our time with children, grandchildren, friends and well-wishers. But just as we start to explore the freedom that comes with retirement, many of us start to experience age-related hearing loss.
Age-related hearing loss, or “presbycusis,” is not the end of the world, and it’s incredibly common. About a third of people aged 60–69 have it, and two-thirds of those over 70 have it. Just about every 100-year-old out there has some hearing loss, so it’s likely that we’ll all get it if we just live long enough!
A lot of people want to put off getting hearing aids until their hearing loss is “really bad,” and some never get them at all. This is too bad! Hearing aids these days are pretty amazing, and they help us avoid a lot of health concerns that are increasingly linked to untreated hearing loss. Still, it’s likely that only about 20% of people who could use them will ever get hearing aids. This statistic hasn’t changed in over 40 years! And on average, it takes someone about seven years from the time they notice a hearing loss to the time they decide to get hearing aids.
Let’s see the Baby Boomers be the generation to break the cycle! Study after study has confirmed the reasons to get hearing aids, even when hearing loss is considered “mild,” so let’s talk about why and see if we can get more Boomers on Board.
Prevent Lifestyle Changes
We all think we can “get by” without hearing aids, and that might even be true for a while. But do you really want to just “get by?”
Mild hearing loss makes it much more difficult to understand speech when background noise is present. This makes it harder to participate in conversations at noisy restaurants and bars, or larger family gatherings. If you can follow along, it’s going to take some extra mental effort, and that’s going to make you tired. Yes: hearing loss is exhausting. Many people who are starting to acquire age-related hearing loss mistake the fatigue that comes from hearing loss as a separate age-related condition, when in reality a good set of hearing aids would solve the problem.
When we have to work hard to understand a conversation, it becomes less fun. And when social gatherings become less fun, we naturally start to avoid them. We might not even realize we’re doing it—we just won’t “feel like it” today. Over time, this can start a trend toward avoiding social outings altogether. Even if we do attend, we’re likely to feel lonely and isolated from the conversation when we can’t hear clearly. Hearing aids help us to enjoy the time we spend with other people, and that naturally makes us feel better and helps us keep living the life we enjoy!
Those with even mild hearing loss tend to report having more memory issues than those with normal hearing or hearing aids. The greater the hearing loss, the more problematic these memory issues seem to be.
This is likely due to the auditory cortex’s close proximity to the center of short-term memory in the brain. When hearing is normal, the auditory cortex identifies and comprehends speech, then immediately shunts it to short-term memory. When our ears aren’t providing reliable information to the auditory cortex, we need to develop work-arounds in order to comprehend what someone is saying. Context clues, guessing, and repetition all come into play, and these utilize other parts of the brain. When we finally do understand, it’s not as simple of a process to commit that understanding to memory.
Prevent Brain Atrophy
Our brains tend to operate on the principle of “use it or lose it.” When the auditory cortex, mentioned above, stops receiving as much information from our ears, it starts to atrophy. This process begins even with mild hearing loss. Brain cells don’t die, but the grey matter supporting the structure dissipates, and the structure collapses. Once this happens, even when you can hear clearly, you won’t be able to understand what’s being said!
The ability to comprehend speech can be regained over time, but why wait until that’s necessary? You can start wearing hearing aids once they’re recommended and live your life uninterrupted by hearing loss.
Hearing Aids Are Better Than Ever
Hearing aids today do a lot more than just amplify sound. They separate speech from background noise, processing each differently and helping to ensure you won’t miss a single word that’s spoken to you. Multi-microphone setups utilize artificial intelligence to help localize sound in space, giving you a better picture of where things are. Then, when you turn your head toward the sound you want to hear, it will be amplified above all else, automatically. It’s as close to normal hearing as hearing aids have ever been, and it’s pretty darned good!
Hearing aids today can connect wirelessly to smartphones and other devices to stream phone calls, video calls, media content, and more. You can even take a hearing test through an app in your smartphone and have your fitment adjusted remotely!
Those who get hearing aids report greater self-confidence and optimism than those with untreated hearing loss. They feel more self-reliant, and are better-able to navigate the world. They suffer fewer accidental injuries, and tend to avoid earlier onset of cognitive decline and dementia.