By Annette Brooks
Although men are almost twice as likely as women to suffer from hearing loss, don’t be tempted to brush it off as a male-only issue. Up to one-third of women in their 50s and almost two-thirds in their 60s have some degree of hearing impairment.
Hearing and Hormones
Hearing loss can be due to hereditary factors, aging, trauma, lifestyle, recreational, and occupational choices. Chronic health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease also affect hearing. Further supporting the total body connection, studies indicate that female hormones may contribute to hearing problems, suggesting that estrogen may protect the inner ear. Even hormonal and circulatory changes during pregnancy can create temporary hearing impairment.
Psychological and Physical Effects
Untreated hearing loss can have a serious psychological and social impact. Unable to hear clearly, people become less likely to interact with others and participate in social activities. This can lead to depression, anxiety, isolation, difficulty maintaining relationships, and feelings of anger and loneliness. Equally troubling is the mounting evidence that hearing loss is a major risk factor for cognitive decline, contributing to dementia.
These issues and more highlight the importance of early intervention, although according to the National Institutes of Health, people often wait 10 years or more from the time they first notice a problem before seeking help.
Diagnosing and Treating Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss, where the inner ear or the hearing nerve itself becomes damaged, is the most common type. Fortunately, hearing aids are often helpful.
The first step is to undergo a comprehensive in-office audiology evaluation with a licensed audiologist. If results indicate that hearing aids will be beneficial, the next step is selecting the hearing aids that will best address your needs and budget, and there are a variety to choose from.
Technology has advanced tremendously, so even the most basic digital hearing aids currently available are far better than the best hearing aids on the market decade or two ago. Aesthetically discreet, highly programmable, and feature-rich, today’s hearing aids can use artificial intelligence (AI), are Bluetooth enabled, connecting to smartphone apps and other devices, offer digital, wind, and impulse noise reduction, have rechargeable batteries, and may even include tinnitus (ringing in the ears) masking features.
While a diagnosis of hearing loss isn’t something you hope for, treating it can lead to a better quality of life with improved communication, psychological well-being, cognitive health, and personal safety. It’s a good idea to get your hearing tested every three to five years, and seniors should see their audiologist annually.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Women are more likely to talk about their hearing loss and seek help than men.
- Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes than in those without.
- Cardiovascular disease that affects circulation can affect your hearing.
- Current smokers are more likely to suffer from hearing loss than nonsmokers.