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Does Snoring Lead To Hearing Loss?

If you suffer from sleep apnea, you may also find yourself at risk for hearing loss. Sleep apnea affects millions of adults, resulting in a bad sleep and general health problems. Apnea can cause generalized inflammation, cardiovascular and endocrine problems; these issues contribute to hearing loss.
A recent study of close to 14,000 subjects Latinos in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos found that sleep apnea was associated with a 31 percent increase in high-frequency hearing impairment and a 90 percent growth in low-frequency hearing impairment. These results, while preliminary and in need of further inquiry, highlight the dangers of sleep apnea. But when you take into consideration combined hearing loss – the participants with sleep apnea had a whopping 38 percent increased risk of combined hearing loss.
One of the study’s researchers, Neomi Shah, summarizes these new findings, stating, “Sleep apnea is more of a systemic and chronic disease than just something that happens when you’re sleeping.” Another researcher said, “I was surprised that people with sleep apnea had an increased risk for hearing loss at all levels.”
Since these findings demonstrate only a correlation between sleep apnea and hearing loss, other researchers urge caution when interpreting the findings.
Neuroscientist Rebecca Spencer states, “You wouldn’t know if one comes before the other: sleep apnea appears before hearing loss, or hearing loss appears before sleep apnea, and maybe they don’t come together at all.”
According to sleepfoundation.org Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. The “apnea” in sleep apnea refers to a breathing pause that lasts at least ten seconds. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite efforts to breathe. Another form of sleep apnea is central sleep apnea, in which the brain fails to properly control breathing during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is far more common than central sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea, or simply sleep apnea, can cause fragmented sleep and low blood oxygen levels. For people with sleep apnea, the combination of disturbed sleep and oxygen starvation may lead to hypertension, heart disease, and other maladies.

loud photo
Cochlear Damage: Sleep apnea can damage the vascular flow to the cochlea, which is part of the inner ear. This damage could lead to hearing loss. The volume of a snore is unbelievably high. A snore is defined as anything above 50 dB, but snores of people with sleep apnea have been recorded at 100 dB. This is well above the “safe” limit of 85 dB.
Correlation does not equate to causation. However, this recent research indicates a possible link between sleep apnea and hearing loss. Therefore, our future understanding improves through more focused studies. We now know that there is the potential that treating sleep apnea may improve hearing loss.
Hearing loss is a difficult condition. The earlier your diagnosis, the better the prospects for successful treatment. If you have sleep apnea, get screened for hearing loss. The treatment you receive may improve your sleep and your hearing.

Hearing impaired man talking using mobile phone at home

Help! My hearing is muffled!

A common sign of hearing loss is when people report their hearing is muffled. When a person indicates that they have some sudden or gradual hearing loss and that loss affects one or both ears, it is important to visit a specialist. Muffled hearing can be caused by a number of factors, but only a trained audiologist should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment.

What to expectA very common reason for muffled or reduced hearing is plugged ears. Ears can be plugged with wax or other debris. In these cases, it is important to have a specialist remove the plug; do not put anything in your ear, including common Q-tips, to attempt to clean out the blockage. A specialist can more effectively and safely remove the blockage and lead to improved hearing. Much like a build-up of ear wax, an ear infection can result in muffled hearing. A fungal or bacterial infection should be diagnosed and treated by a physician.

Persons with a poorly functioning Eustachian tube may suffer from muffled hearing. The Eustachian turn connects the middle ear space with the back of nose and throat, regulating pressure between these two spaces. If you have sinus issues, the Eustachian tube may not function properly. This condition, called Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD), may result in your ears feeling clogged. Often the clogging is temporary and requires no intervention. If the condition is persistent or frequent, an evaluation by an audiologist may provide clarity on the condition and an appropriate treatment plan.

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Other reasons for muffled hearing included asymmetric hearing loss and/or high-frequency hearing loss. Asymmetric hearing loss occurs when the loss is greater in one ear. The difference in hearing can lead to confusion in the brain and muffled hearing. On the other hand, high-frequency hearing loss means one has difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds. Since these sounds include the consonant sounds of speech more than the vowel sounds, people suffering high-frequency hearing loss can “hear”, but persons speaking often sound as if they are mumbling.

In all cases of perceived hearing loss, the first step is getting a proper diagnosis. Professional help can safely assess your current situation and apply expertise towards creating a treatment plan that best fits your specific needs. At NexGen Hearing, we specialize in helping all Canadians with their hearing care and have the staff, tools, and techniques to help you reduce or eliminate muffled hearing.

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Better TV Sound For Those With Hearing Loss

One of the biggest day-to-day problems that those with hearing loss experience is the difficulty to understand what’s being said, and not just in face-to-face conversation. Dialogue on your television may be especially hard to hear, with background noise in your home, poor-quality speakers, or just bad sound design within the show itself. Thankfully, modern TVs have a lot of options for you to try and improve your experience.

Some televisions have a preset option to enhance the dialogue, which may be exactly what you’re looking for. Go through your settings and try to find anywhere you can turn up the dialogue audio and turn down the background noise. If your TV doesn’t have this option pre-set, try doing it manually. Turn up the mid and upper range frequencies, and turn down the bass.

Either in addition to or instead of adjusting your audio, there are always closed captions to consider. Your TV should have the option of fairly good closed captions, and especially when it comes to streaming services, these captions have become very accurate and helpful in recent years.

bose sound bar

But if you still really want to hear the dialogue, look into some wireless headphones, or consider a more surround-sound speaker system. The Bose sound bar has a setting, just for dialog and gets great reviews, but Samsung, Vizio and others all have a setting for dialog or speech and all of them work remarkably well.  You don’t need a big elaborate system with separate subwoofers and satellite speakers, a simple soundbar like the one above, with one wire that plugs into the back of your set and can be placed on a shelf in front of your tv should be more than enough.

Bringing the audio output closer to you can help you hear and understand it. Just be sure that if you’re using headphones, you don’t turn up the volume too loud so that it can further damage your hearing.

When trying to understand what’s being said on your TV, turning it up to max volume doesn’t always help you. This may make it even harder to distinguish dialogue from background noise. Try several different technological adjustments, and also try to limit other noises around your home. This way you can focus on understanding the conversations, and not try to comprehend several different types of sound at once.

tv remote

If you have a hearing impairment, wearing hearing aids will help you to hear the television better. Newer hearing aid models even have specialized TV programs to help with the clarity even more.  Some will automatically connect to your tv via Bluetooth. 

With today’s advancements in technology, there is no reason to be not hearing your favorite television programs

What is swimmers ear?

6 Ways to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

6 ways to prevent swimmer's ear

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer part of the ear canal that can be caused by exposure to bacteria from swimming in polluted water, or by water becoming trapped in the ear, which causes the germs normally found there to multiply. People that swim in pools (rather than lakes or oceans) tend to get swimmer’s ear more often, since the chlorinated water can kill off a lot of the protective bacteria in the ear, allowing the infectious bacteria to grow.

What Is Swimmer’s Ear?

 

Otitis externa or swimmer’s ear is an inflammation of the ear canal. Its common name comes from the fact that it often occurs in people who swim frequently. However, any kind of dampness in the ear canal can lead to irritation and chafing, a condition similar to diaper rash. This inflammation of the ear canal can sometimes lead to an infection that can be very painful.

Just know you don’t have to be a swimmer to get swimmer’s ear. It can be caused by excess moisture in the ear from things like showering or washing your hair.

What Are the Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear?

The symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:

  • Temporarily muffled hearing (caused by blockage of the ear canal)
  • Watery discharge from the ear
  • Severe pain and tenderness in the ear, especially when moving your head or when gently pulling on the earlobe
  • A foul-smelling, yellowish discharge from the ear
  • Itching inside the ear

Some tips to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

  • Keep Your Ears Clean and Dry, Especially After Swimming – Tip your head to the side until all of the water runs out of your ear, repeat on the other side
  • Always Maintain Proper Ear Wax Hygiene
  • Never insert a Q-tip or any other objects in your ears, which may damage the skin.
  • Keep hairspray or other irritating chemicals out of the ears by using ear plugs or cotton balls.
  • Avoid scratching or cutting your ears.
  • You may use a drop or two of vegetable oil or olive oil in your ears each day to help lubricate the ear canal and nourish dry skin.
  • Avoid vigorous cleaning of the ear. If you have excessive ear wax, get your ears professionally cleaned by a doctor.

Call Your Doctor About Swimmer’s Ear if:

  • You are experiencing any of the symptoms of an ear infection.
  • You are experiencing dizziness or ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
  • You have severe pain.

Although earplugs seem like a natural choice for prevention, many doctors don’t like them because they can trap bacteria in the ear canal and have the opposite effect. They suggest the steps above. A little ear care can keep Swimmer’s Ear something that you only heard about.

Couple talking

How to Talk to Someone With Hearing Loss

Because language is our primary source of communication, it becomes difficult to properly communicate with someone who has hearing loss if you aren’t familiar with it. Although sign language is very handy, it’s not always an option, and we need to be able to communicate properly without it.

Speaking clearly is a must, and even during times of heated discussion, it’s important to keep your voice calm and refrain from talking over each other. Without taking turns speaking, the person you are speaking with cannot keep up with the conversation and gets left out of the dialogue. When there are more than just you and another person talking, you need to be aware of the other people around you and how they are acting, not just your own actions.

meeting photo
Photo by Sole Treadmill

If you are in a meeting or something similar with a large group of people speaking, it is a good idea to have a microphone. This makes it easier to focus and see who is speaking. It also keeps people from talking out of turn or speaking over one another, because one person has the microphone and therefore everyone else must wait for their opportunity to talk.

Another habit that you should never use when speaking to someone with hearing loss is to dismiss them or say “never mind” when asked to repeat something. This is not only very disrespectful but also ruins the connection that could have formed if you had just repeated a word or phrase for the person’s convenience. If there is simply not enough time to repeat what you had said, then telling the person that would be much better than brushing them off. Letting the person know that you will pick up the story or repeat it later makes it more apparent that you are willing to accommodate for their benefit, and will make communicating with them much smoother and enjoyable for both sides of the conversation.

*Try our convenient online hearing test to see if a visit to one of our registered hearing instrument practitioners/audiologists would work out best for you. Check out our different locations.

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The Tech Hearing Bias

If you have hearing problems inventors haven’t been working with you. There is an age bias as they create their products for the younger faster adopters. And if you have hearing impairment the problem is even worse.

The Important Senses

We all have five senses: vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste Of all senses, vision and hearing are the strongest with research showing that our brains receive the greatest amount of data bits from these senses. Although we depend a lot on our sense of sight, our vision is limited because in a darkened environment the input stops. Second only to a sense of sight, is hearing. Different from vision, our sense of hearing has no limitation since it does not require direct proximity to a sound source.

Although the other three senses play a major role in our lives, their deterioration would not be as heavily felt like the loss of sight or hearing. That said, people who lack the ability to hear scientist believe live a considerably harder life than those that lack the capacity to see often, creating a sense of isolation.

Some Big Differences

Most devices have been developed by the young who constantly crave new and more elaborate technology A recent study conducted by Reuters divided an audience into five distinct age groups: Group 1 (18-24), Group 2 (25-34), Group 3 (35-44), Group 4 (45-54) and Group 5 (55+). According to the study, people in Group 5 (55+) received most of their news from TV, print, and radio while people in Group 1 (18-24) got nearly all of their information from the internet. However, the study also concluded that despite the importance of TV to the elderly, most of the people in this group stated high dissatisfaction with the medium.

Photo by Harry Wood
Photo by Harry Wood

They Can’t Hear It

Reuters found that one of the reasons why older people had difficulties was their inability to hear the TV audio. The people surveyed said one of the reasons was because news anchors spoke too fast. Even though people over 65 watch up to three times more TV than the young, they enjoyed their time considerably less. They also don’t experience the same stress relieving effects of television other people felt. Once again the main reason is that TV is too hard to understand. To compound this issue further, modern television sets are thinner, they value compactness over sound quality. In contrast to the past where TVs had large consoles, today’s sets have little room for manufacturers to add good audio speakers. The situation only worsens when there is a high amount of background noise.

As one ages, you gradually lose your hearing first in the high-frequency range of the audio spectrum. Many people falsely believe that this loss only happens in older people. In fact, men start losing their high-frequency sensitivity as early as 35, and if they have listened to loud music and too loud headphones, this could occur even earlier.

Losing the ability to hear high-frequency sounds is problematic since the spectrum contains consonants which carry pivotal sounds. Conversely, vowels are housed in the lower frequency spectrum and carry less important information.

In order for the elderly to clearly get the news, reporters have to speak slower and have better diction, think of the sound of an old-time announcer. Unfortunately, journalists are more concerned with looking good, not speaking well and thus compounding the problem for their main audience. The trend of the new crop of reporters is also worrying since they seem to be talking faster than ever before.

Looking Good vs Being Understood

Unfortunately, journalists are more concerned with looking good, not speaking well and thus compounding the problem for their main audience. The trend of the new crop of reporters is also worrying since they seem to be talking faster than ever before.How To Adjust Your TV For Better Hearing

One of the biggest day-to-day problems that those with hearing loss experience is the difficulty to understand what’s being said, and not just in face-to-face conversation. Dialogue on your television may be especially hard to hear, with background noise in your home, poor-quality speakers, or just bad sound design within the show itself. Thankfully, modern TVs have a lot of options for you to try and improve your experience.

Some televisions have a preset option to enhance the dialogue, which may be exactly what you’re looking for. Go through your settings and try to find anywhere you can turn up the dialogue audio and turn down the background noise. If your TV doesn’t have this option pre-set, try doing it manually. Turn up the mid and upper range frequencies, and turn down the bass.

Either in addition to or instead of adjusting your audio, there are always closed captions to consider. Your TV should have the option of fairly good closed captions, and especially when it comes to streaming services, these captions have become very accurate and helpful in recent years.

But if you still really want to hear the dialogue, look into some wireless headphones, or consider a more surround-sound speaker system. Bringing the audio output closer to you can help you hear and understand it. Just be sure that if you’re using headphones, you don’t turn up the volume too loud so that it can further damage your hearing.

When trying to understand what’s being said on your TV, turning it up to max volume doesn’t always help you. This may make it even harder to distinguish dialogue from background noise. Try several different technological adjustments, and also try to limit other noises around your home. This way you can focus on understanding the conversations, and not try to comprehend several different types of sound at once.

Things Are Changing

The silver lining to this situation is that new hearing aids have the ability to connect directly to TV through Bluetooth. And as the baby-boomers age and control more and more discriminatory spending there is more hope on the hearing front.

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Turn your hearing aids into wireless stereo headphones so you can enjoy your favorite programs at the volume you choose. The TV Adapter connects to almost any audio device using the cables provided. Stereo sound from the TV streams directly to your hearing aids from a range of up to 45 feet.

Eh?

Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids

-As of this July, over-the-counter hearing aids (OTC hearing aids) will be available to purchase in the United States. Many people may be curious about this option for hearing loss and what it means for the industry, so here is some more information about them.

What are they?

Over-the-counter hearing aids can be bought directly in stores or online, and are mainly for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. These hearing aids will be safe and closely regulated by the FDA, as well as clearly labeled. There are some differences between OTC and prof

Pros and cons

There are advantages and disadvantages to the introduction of OTC hearing aids. For one, they will make it much easier to order hearing aids online and at your convenience. Over-the-counter hearing devices are also usually cheaper than buying them in a professional or medical setting. However, the price of OTC does not include accurate hearing tests or programming of the devices. The cost of professionally fitted hearing aids is usually bundled, meaning that you are charged for the devices, as well as consultations, tests, and follow-ups all at the same time. If you are new to buying hearing aids, over-the-counter may not be the best way to go, as there are a lot of steps to getting tested and fit for them. professionally bought hearing aids also typically have a longer warranty- around 3-5 years, as opposed to the OTC warranty of around 1 year.

Safety/Concerns about OTC

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For those who can’t afford the entire process of customizing professional hearing aids, buying them over-the-counter could be very appealing. With the introduction of these devices, however, it’s important to be careful where they are purchased from. Buying them from Craigslist, Ebay, or any other websites that look untrustworthy can be dangerous to your health. Once these hearing aids are legal, there will no doubt be many scams, and people trying to make money from them. Just be sure that you are buying them safely and securely.

Many of those working in the health industry may be concerned that OTC hearing aids will steer people away from professional consultations. However, these products will allow the purchase of affordable hearing devices by those who would normally never consider it. This will likely drive many new patients to specialists for consultations, check-ups, and hearing tests over the years. If enough people get behind these OTC hearing aids-customers and professionals alike- the importance of healthy hearing will only become more prevalent in society. Those with hearing loss and those who can care for them will all see a major improvement.

A Noisy Enviroment

Noise Induced Hearing Loss – It’s Everywhere

Symptoms, causes, and prevention tips for (NIHL) Noise-induced hearing loss.

There are over 10 million people in the US alone with noise-induced hearing loss. People with noise-induced hearing loss have it due to prolonged exposure to loud noise. Regretfully, a big number of NIHL cases are preventable.

We are all subjected to sound every day, everything from home appliances, traffic, radios, tv’s, and computers. Normally harmless but when sounds are loud and prolonged, it can lead to permanent hearing damage. The noise damages the sensitive structures of the inner ear.
Some people notice noise-induced hearing loss right off the bat, while others discover it over time. The hearing loss can be only temporary, but other times it can be long-term and impact both ears. Sadly, some people don’t understand that they are damaging their hearing.

The (NIDCD) National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders supports research into the triggers, treatment, and prevention of hearing loss. Research has determined the genes that are crucial for hair-cell function, and details are being explored into possible new treatments.

Researchers are also looking into the protective properties of cells of the inner ear, which might be able to reduce the noise damage There is a public education campaign of increasing awareness with both parents and teens about the causes of noise-induced hearing loss called “It’s a Noisy Planet.”

Who is affected by this kind of hearing loss? It can impact anybody at any age. Direct exposure can happen at work, leisure, and even at home. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that six percent of North Americans under the age of seventy experience some form of hearing loss. Even around 20 percent of people under 20 have hearing loss present in one or both ears.

So what causes NIHL? All type of things.

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Target shooting and hunting, recreational vehicles, carpentry, performing in a band, and attending concerts. There are also people who lose their hearing following a single intense sound, like an explosion. Sound is measured in decibels. A humming refrigerator, for instance, is 40 decibels. Firearms and firecrackers could be as high as 150. Even sounds less than 75 decibels are capable of causing hearing loss.

Noise-induced hearing loss: The Symptoms and Causes

People exposed to loud noises over a prolonged period can slowly lose their hearing. And since it is gradual, it is harder to detect, and you run the risk of not noticing it and continue to subject yourself to the cause. Eventually, the hearing loss becomes obvious. It’s more than not being able to hear. Here is a list of possible symptoms:
- Buzzing, ringing, or roaring in ears or head, is a thing called Tinnitus
- A temporary hearing loss that goes away in less than two days.
- Sounds that are distorted or sound like they are smothered.
- Trouble understanding speech.
- Sudden and possibly permanent loss of hearing
The problem can get worse as a person ages. If someone has tinnitus, it might continue for the rest of their life. Noises, which are abrupt, sharp, and constant, may just cause temporary hearing loss. This short-term hearing issue is called “limit shift”.

An audiologist performs a hearing test to determine if you have hearing loss. If the test shows that you do have a problem with hearing, the audiologist can focus on ear care and figure out the degree of hearing loss. The audiologist then will identify which frequencies you have difficulty hearing.

There is no cure for irreversible hearing loss. Treatment for a partial hearing loss usually will concentrate on making sure you have proper ear protection, so your hearing doesn’t get worse.
Luckily, there are devices that can help people hear better. It will depend on the degree of your hearing loss. However, some individuals benefit from using a hearing aid. This is a device that you can use in your ear that amplifies noise.

Your hearing keeps you in touch with the world around you and is nothing to take for granted.

In one ear and out the other

In One Ear and Out the Other

How is your hearing? Remember the phone commercial who’s slogan was “Can you hear me now?” In reality, that may be a bigger question than about your wireless coverage. It can be a sign of potential health trouble when questions like that are left unanswered or are constantly asked to be repeated.

hearing photo
Photo by AHTD

Good communication is a give and take, there is a message sender and a receiver. In between, there is ample background noise and mistaken or unheard words. If this happens to you, there may be a concern for your health to consider — your hearing health. 

There are two prominent factors to indicate a problem in the receiver’s ability to hear the message being sent say leading ENTs.

There are two main symptoms with one’s hearing health: “One is tinnitus, where patients complain of hearing a humming, ringing or buzzing sound in their ears that isn’t really happening.” Tinnitus is prevalent affecting roughly one-fourth of the population. 

The second sign of potential hearing loss is when is constantly asking people to repeat themselves, which can be exacerbated when there is background noise to make matters worse.

The two biggest causes of hearing loss in otherwise healthy individuals are presbycusis and the second is noise induced trauma.  Presbycusis is when hearing deteriorates with age. Presbycusis is caused by a blend of genetics and environmental factors that together impact one’s hearing health. Presbycusis occurs gradually, initially affecting the ability to hear higher-pitched, higher-frequency sounds.

The second biggest cause of hearing loss is completely preventable, Noise-induced hearing loss is caused when a person subjects himself to loud sounds without proper ear protection or through a damaging level of noise from such things as ear buds, or a loud work environment. 

Doctors say they are seeing a significant increase in noise-induced hearing loss, especially in the younger population, even as young as eleven or twelve. Essentially or unfortunately, most listening through headphones is too loud.

headphones photo
Photo by TalAtlas

Most signs of hearing loss come from the people around the patient. Individuals experiencing hearing loss often have difficulty in distinguishing words that end in F or S, and the letters T and P are also difficult to understand. 

“These are the words that are asked to be repeated most often. Affected people will also often have their television volumes turned up too loud for the people around them.

Hearing professionals are also seeing an increase in the number of noise-induced hearing loss patients due to being unprotected in loud-level environments. 

“Essentially anything that calls for safety glasses should include hearing protection as well. 

A formal audiology test can easily detect issues caused by noise-induced hearing loss, and with a proper plan developed with a patient, the damage can often be minimized or even eliminated through making changes in a person’s habits and lifestyle.

Construction workers, heavy equipment operators and others are not protecting their ears like they protect their eyes. Even something as mundane as mowing the lawn or using leaf blowers should be seen as a source for hearing loss over time.

shooting range photo
Photo by Wheeler Cowperthwaite

Firing a gun is yet another big area of concern. At a shooting range, both protective plugs and muffs should be worn together. For hunting and in competitive shooting environments, electronic plugs and muffs should be worn. 

The ear’s hair cells literally become damaged. Hair cells are destroyed that once helped focus sound. Once the hairs are damaged, they don’t grow back. Damage can happen even in one unprotected event. 

Other occupations where hearing loss can happen as a result working without protection might surprise you.  These places include beauty salon operators, over-the-road truck drivers, school teachers and choir directors. And when it comes to kids, gamers and kids in band could be affected without realizing it.

Hearing loss can result from diseases like diabetes which shrinks the nerves around the cochlea and your heart, or ototoxicity, which comes from taking chemotherapy medication.

Hearing loss has been linked to a higher rate of dementia in patients who socially isolate themselves because of declining hearing health. 

It’s important to keep your mind stimulated, to keep yourself in the game and to keep on top of your hearing health.

Experts agree the one hearing health measure that has the biggest effect on hearing is the level of importance people place on their hearing health. With or without hearing loss, it’s important to keep your hearing in check and to keep your ears protected. Assessing your daily activities and determining if there is more you could be doing proactively to guard against hearing loss is essential. 

Plus if you have a loved one with possible hearing loss the longer it is left unaddressed, the less can be done to prevent or treat the symptoms. The ears themselves are self-cleaning, but your hearing is not something to take for granted. 

Understanding Speech. Is it My Hearing or Am I Getting Old?

 

Is it My Hearing or Am I Getting Old?

Age-related hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Hearing loss can impact a person’s ability to understand and interpret speech, which impairs their ability to communicate. As a result, as we age our ability to communicate becomes more difficult.

When an older person asks us to repeat something we just said, we often assume that they are struggling to understand our speech due to hearing loss. Although this may often the case, a new study shows that difficulty in understanding speech may be due to the effects of aging on the brain, occurring in cases where no hearing loss exists.

University of Maryland researchers Alessandro Presacco, Jonathan Simon, and Samira Anderson published a new study in the Journal of Neurophysiology demonstrating the effects of aging on understanding speech.

In this study, two groups of adults with clinically normal hearing experienced a series of tests that checked their comprehension of speech against background noise. One group was comprised of 17 younger adults (aged 18-27 years) and the other group was comprised of 15 older adults (aged 61-73 years). The tests that the groups were given also tested mid-brain and cortical activity in response to speech in a variety of different environments (i.e. with ambient background noise, multiple people talking simultaneously in the same language, and multiple people talking simultaneously in an incomprehensible language).

The researchers found that overall, the older group had more difficulty interpreting speech, especially if there was a distracting noise in the background, such as a person speaking in the same language. The younger group’s ability to understand speech was also affected by distracting background noise, but to a lesser degree than the older group.

These results suggest that neural processing of speech is strongly affected by the informational content of noise. Additionally, as we age, our ability to process and understand speech declines – especially in distractingly noisy environments. The decline is unrelated to hearing loss and can occur even in the presence of no hearing loss.

Often, we will hear an older person say that they can hear us, but cannot “understand” us. This cognitive decline gives an explanation as to why that is the case. Older individuals with normal hearing may be able to hear you, but their brains struggle to keep up with what is being said.

Co-author of the University of Maryland study Jonathan Simon suggests that older people need more time to figure out what a speaker is saying because their brains have to exert more effort than younger adults. When talking to an older person with normal hearing struggles to understand speech, talking louder is not always a better solution. If someone is having trouble understanding you in a noisy environment, speak to them at a normal volume while facing them directly.

Although some older adults struggle to understand speech due to cognitive decline, the inability to understand speech can lead to a lower quality of life. Inability to communicate often leads to feelings of isolation and depression. Before ruling out hearing loss, get a hearing test performed by a hearing care professional.