If you have adult onset hearing loss, hearing speech (and music, laughing, birds, alerting sounds, …) is likely a *HUGE part of your life. People with untreated hearing loss are at increased risk for isolation and depression, reduced cognitive stimulation, falling, reduced earning power, and lower overall quality of life – that is how important hearing can be to us.
There is still a great deal we need to learn about the role hearing aids play in improving outcomes in cognitive function as we age. But in my opinion, there is more than enough evidence that treating adult onset hearing loss is worth the investment many many times over.
*Individuals who were born hard of hearing often have a different perspective on hearing aids and the importance of hearing in their lives. Try not to assume your struggles with hearing loss are the same as theirs – they may feel quite differently about their situation.
“Treatment” usually includes hearing aids but that may not be the answer for you or they may only be part of the answer. This depends on the degree, configuration, and type of hearing loss you have (a hearing test will tell you this), the status of your ear-brain system, and the types of environments in which you are listening.
Hearing aids can improve audibility of softer sounds (“softer” is relative to your particular loss), clarity of speech (in person, on TV, and on the phone), ability to hear in noisier environments, and may be improved localization of sound, depending on your hearing and your hearing aids. In this way, consistent use of properly fit hearing aids can improve quality of life, cognitive stimulation, and earning power! You should talk to your audiologist about your specific situation and what to expect from hearing aids.
Other/additional options may include:
– Assistive listening devices (ALDs), like an amplified or captioned telephone or an amplified stethoscope for doctors (ask an audiologist about other devices for safety, the TV, and more). Even apps like EarMachine can be helpful.
– Over the counter hearing aids/personal sound amplifiers may be a good, more affordable option for people with milder hearing loss. These are not well regulated though so be sure to do your research on their safety. The SoundHawk is one that has received good reviews and some good independent testing. I’ll write more on this topic another day.
– Alternative modes of communication may be integrated in your family. Some adults, particularly those with severe to profound hearing loss, opt to learn a form of sign language to improve their communication with friends and family.
– Some individuals with profound sensorineural hearing loss try hearing aids and their hearing loss is so significant that they barely find any benefit from them. In their case, a cochlear implant may be an option. Lack of benefit from hearing aids must be demonstrated to qualify for a cochlear implant. Do not confuse these with implantable hearing aids.
Also! As I said before, hearing aids are a process and it is not all about the devices themselves. Both you and those you communicate with are going to have to make some changes in how you communicate. Technology can help a great deal but it can be more complicated than that (read the book I recommended!).
Hearing loss can have a signficant long term ripple in our lives from many angles. Consider how hearing and communication effect your ability to discuss and follow your doctor’s recommendations during an appointment, your quality time with family, how supported you feel by your spouse, and the enjoyment you get from activities with friends. Take a look at this 75-year study by Harvard on what really impacts our long-term health if you’d like to explore this more.