Here we are starting the ‘new year’ in September, again.
Even for retirees, this is a time to resume activities for the fall. To avoid the negative effects of social Isolation, it is useful to schedule some weekly and monthly activities and some special events. Getting out (or online) for learning, community volunteering, physical workouts, and part-time work promotes our mental and physical well-being. So does getting together for events such as theatre, concerts, art galleries, country drives, and lunches.
Coping with Age-Related Hearing Changes
All these social activities – good for our health – depend on good hearing.
Age-related hearing loss comes on gradually – first affecting our ability to hear in noisy settings and eventually making it difficult to follow even a conversation with a single person.
I have been using hearing aids for six years. I definitely notice when I forget to put them on before social activities. My family members also notice when I don’t bother to use them. I’ve been pleased with how easy it was to get accustomed to wearing hearing aids – the technology has improved dramatically over recent years. I can even use Bluetooth to listen to my laptop and phone directly through hearing aids.
Research on Impact of Hearing Loss
Research demonstrates that age-related hearing loss is very common, reaching 65% for adults over 70. We are typically hesitant to get hearing impairment diagnosed and even more reluctant to buy and then use hearing aids. A recent Scientific American article reports that as few as 15 percent of people who would benefit from hearing aids use them.
For many years, psychologists, audiologists and speech-language pathologists have known that hearing loss can impair social functioning. When we don’t hear well, we begin to avoid public meetings and restaurant gatherings. Later on, with further hearing loss, we might hesitate to invite people to our home because we can’t quite follow conversations. To cope with not hearing, we may become boring because we either keep silent or dominate the conversation.
This same article highlights the relationship between hearing loss and diagnosed dementia and new research suggesting that using hearing aids may be one of the key modifiable behaviours for preventing dementia. This is especially true among older adults at high risk for the development of dementia.
Taking the time to get our hearing tested and, if necessary, learning to use hearing aids can thus make living easier, enhance our social interactions, and help us maintain our level of cognitive functioning. The link to cognitive functioning is likely mediated mostly by social connections, but there might also be a direct link indicating that we can think better when hearing all the human and non-human sounds in our environment. Researchers are turning their attention to this issue of causation.
As I have been learning about this connection between hearing aid use and dementia prevention, I am resolved to wear my hearing aids more consistently and to be sure to get my hearing tested at least every two years.
For Further Learning:
Hearing Loss – Common Problem for Older Adults (National Institutes of Health)
Hidden Risks of Hearing Loss (Johns Hopkins Health)
Hearing Aids May Lower Risk of Cognitive Decline and Dementia (Scientific American 2023)
Hearing Loss and Cognition: What We Know and Where We Need to Go (Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience)