It is not just COVID-19 that imposes social isolation. Hearing loss creates its own set of circumstances that can force a person to withdraw from social contacts. And that withdrawal can have numerous consequences with the way we perceive and interact with the world.
Loss of hearing can also present similar symptoms to cognitive decline- problems with memory, thinking and judgement – which a simple hearing test may help to set aside. When a person cannot hear properly they make work harder than others to follow conversations which leads to feeling more tired at the end of the day than usual. And that is not a sign of encroaching old age but of a greater effort to follow what is going on.
Audiologist Cris Ivanidis of Active Audiology said that the stigma attached by many in the community to wearing hearing aids was “unnecessary and prevents people from taking action on something that is easy to fix.”
He said it was important for people in from their late forties to undergo to undergo regular tests to pick up hearing difficulties that can impact on their quality of life and even in the way they pursue their careers.
“Natural hearing loss starts around the mid 40s and you should undergo hearing tests from your late 40s onwards,” Mr Ivanidis said.
Sometimes we are not aware that we are not hearing as well as we used to.
“The most common symptoms are if you can hear but not clearly and you have to keep repeating questions. People will mask hearing loss by putting the TV on louder than before. It is usually our significant others in our lives who tend to notice the difference,” Mr Ivanidis said.
“The earlier patients act on their hearing loss, the better they tend to do,” he said. “The important point is that change in cognition is linked to hearing loss.”
One of the leading research centres in the US, Johns Hopkins University conducted a six-year long study of 2 000 seniors and found that hearing loss had contributed to a faster decline of cognitive abilities. It found that that there 24 percent more people with hearing difficulties having cognitive difficulties than people with normal hearing. A study in the United Kingdom over 20 years reached a similar conclusion.
“Patients in their 50s and 60s may have only experienced hearing difficulties for a relatively short time. When they try a hearing aid, they adjust much quicker and achieve a better hearing result,” Mr Ivanidis said.
Hearing loss impacts on people who face difficulties in their normal working lives. A case in point was barrister Tom Moisidis from hearing perfectly and responding directly are as important in the court room as knowledge of legal statutes. It is also something that is important in family life, he said.
“Asking a judge to repeat a statement will often draw the response: ‘it is not my problem if the barrister is not able to hear,” said Mr Moisidis who recently had a hearing aid fitted for him.
“People should know that you do not have to be old or severly deaf to treat your hearing problems. You ‘look’ older by asking people to repeat themselves compared to wearing a tiny, invisible device that helps you to hear and understand better,” said Mr Moisidis.
“When you have a hearing loss you lose the ability to hear soft sounds. This ability to pick up sounds won’t deteriorate faster whether you use a hearing aid or not. But if you have a hearing loss and don’t wear hearing aids the ability of your ears to understand speech is likely to get worse more rapidly,” said Mr Ivanidis.
He said that development in hearing devices helped the hard of hearing to cope with different environments but they were not the perfect substitute for normal hearing. Some work was needed to get the most out of the devices.
As audiologists, we tailor programs that are specific to the individual’s goals. We maintain contact with them and help maintain close interaction to make the necessary adjustments.
“Fitting the device is one thing and then there is guidance to cover the months ahead as it does take time to set the device to cope with the conditions that the person will face. The devices assist hearing they do not replace normal hearing. “
He said there were over 100 hearing devices available and it was important to provide realistic expectations of what the devices could do and to find the most suitable device for the person’s needs.
Every person is wired differently in the way they hear so that it is important to find the right device to suit the individual. The older the patient the more the time needed to adjust to life with a hearing aid.