Good hearing and communication are important at all stages of life and even more so as we get older. World Hearing Day March 3 was the centre-piece of Hearing Awareness Week with the World Health Organisation calling for action to address hearing loss and ear diseases across the life course.
The theme of the 2021 World Hearing Day was Hearing care for all: Screen, Rehabilitate and Communicate. A good reminder to us all that we need to take care of, and protect, our hearing health.
We can take steps to avoid hearing loss through preventative actions such as protection against loud sounds and good ear care practices. It is also important that as soon as we identify any level of hearing loss with address it and seek care from a health professional.
Sight and hearing loss are both more common as you get older. For a person with dementia, this can cause extra problems, such as confusion about what's happening around them and problems with communication.
Some Hearing Statistics
- Hearing loss cases for both men and women peaks in the 60-69 age range.
- The number of people with hearing loss in Australia was 3.6 million in 2017, and this is expected to more than double by 2060.
- Over a third of adult hearing loss (37 per cent) is preventable.
- Recognising and treating hearing loss in mid-life reduces the risk of dementia by nine per cent.
Dr Dimity Dornan, AO, the Executive Director and Founder of Hear and Say, a foundation that has grown to become a world leader in hearing, listening and speaking outlines the loss of hearing and the impact on our health in The Guide to Living Well
“Significant deafness later in life is usually the result of damage to the inner ear or nerve-related. It may be caused by injury, disease, certain medications or exposure to loud noise or age-related wear and tear. Few people know how much noise we’re actually exposed to, and if it’s loud enough and often enough, this noise can cause significant hearing loss.”
For those who are experiencing significant hearing loss, this can affect their ability to communicate and lead them to avoid making social relationships.
Consequently, feelings of isolation and loneliness can increase and you may see deterioration in someone’s quality of life.
Dimity also says there is reasonably strong evidence of an association between a decline in sensory abilities including hearing loss and a decline in cognition in the elderly.
“If older adults can no longer hold loving conversations with others who care for them, their brain will not be stimulated in the important areas of listening and speaking, and we all know that if we don’t use our brain, then the brain pathways dedicated to those functions will be changed, or even lost, if the situation continues for long enough.”
Hearing loss is sometimes inevitable and there are some simple tips to help reduce conversational difficulties for both the listener and the speaker. These will be especially helpful if you or your loved one has just started to adjust to hearing loss.
- Don’t try and hide the loss of hearing
- Use assistive hearing aides
- Be prepared
- Verifty what you think you have heard
- Be assertive
- Listen with your eyes and not your ears
- Go easy on yourself.
Source: Communication Strategies: Better Hearing Institute, Patricia B Kricos PHD University of Florida
So this month, take a moment to reflect on your hearing. Protect your hearing by ensuring you don’t place yourself in very loud environments and seek professional help to ensure that you can communicate with those around you for years to come.