What Are You Risking?
Last time we discussed your possible odds of experiencing hearing loss. These vary depending on your age, sex, and degree of exposure to loud sounds, among other factors. The next question to answer is what you could be risking by not taking steps to improve your hearing health.
Here are some of the serious risks of untreated hearing loss that have been identified by recent research:
Isolation and Mental Decline
Several studies have suggested that untreated hearing loss may increase mental decline in older people. A study conducted by hearing specialists at Johns Hopkins reported that older adults with hearing loss experienced greater loss of mental function than others whose hearing was normal (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_accelerates_brain_function_decline_in_older_adults).
The isolation and resulting lack of stimulation caused by untreated hearing loss may contribute to that mental decline. So while many people say they avoid hearing aids because they don’t want to appear old, perhaps they should correct their hearing to help their brains stay young.
A Worker Who’s Simply “Showing His Age”?
Many of us have wondered if someone in the workplace (even ourselves) is “losing his edge.” Before a seasoned employee is dismissed, however, managers should pinpoint the behaviors causing concern. Perhaps the employee loses focus during meetings, especially when cross-talk gets lively. His telephone style may be slower, less productive. He avoids dinner meetings and staff socialization. If his written reports and correspondence are still as sharp as ever, he might need to visit an audiologist or other hearing professional. And management might retain his lifetime of experience by suggesting that he do so (http://www.hearingloss.org/sites/default/files/docs/Mark%20RossUntreated%20Hearing%20Loss%20in%20the%20Workplace%20May-June%202011%20Hearing%20Loss%20Magazine.pdf).
Young People at Risk, Too: An Epidemic of Future Hearing Loss
Scientists now suspect that loud sounds delivered directly to the ears for a short time can do lasting damage to hearing. The World Health Organization recently warned that 1.1 billion young people are now at risk of losing their hearing because of “unsafe use of personal audio devices” like smartphones and earbuds, as well as exposure to intense sounds in “noisy entertainment venues” such as concerts, clubs and sports arenas (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/ear-care/en/).
Earbuds deliver sound deep in the ear, where it can permanently injure hearing. Many people unthinkingly crank music up to potentially dangerous levels, not knowing they may be causing permanent hearing loss (“noise-induced deafness”). So here’s a rule of thumb: if other people can hear music played through your earphones or earbuds, it’s too loud. And take earplugs to the football game.
What might you be risking by ignoring hearing problems? An easy, private first step is to visit the National Hearing Test web site and follow its instructions to take our hearing test over a land-line phone. In about ten minutes your hearing in each ear will be rated normal, slightly below normal or substantially below normal. What you choose to do with the results is up to you. But be aware of what you are risking.
Images: Man courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Woman courtesy of marcolm at FreeDitigalPhotos.net.