Let me tell you how I work these blogs. I write them. Then I give them to my husband to read them for understanding. I tend to think I am talking to you when I write, so I often take shortcuts, like “you know the thing with the thing,” instead of using a noun so it’s good to have his eyes looking over my shoulder.
But, in my last piece, Listen Up! Fix Your Hearing Now, I gave him the copy for more than editorial reasons. I wanted him to get his hearing tested. I figured the compelling drama of the piece would bring him to action.
Here’s what happened.
Absolutely nothing. It did not move him one bit.
That led me to give up and allow him to live his own life without my interference.
Have you stopped laughing yet?
Of course I didn’t leave him alone! I persisted. And that persistence (plus a friend’s revelation you will read about later) led me to do some further research into the issue of hearing loss as we age.
If you are in his boat, please read the article and act.
The brain is a self-correcting computer.…mostly.
There is a lot of news out about brain plasticity and its ability to rewire itself in the face of neurological challenges. But this is not quite what happens with hearing loss. What occurs is that the brain compensates for the loss. For example, if it becomes harder for you to hear a higher pitch, the part of your hearing mechanism that hears lower pitch is put to work on hearing higher pitched sounds. It is not meant for the job…exactly…so your hearing is not the same as it was before the loss. You hear differently, in a reorganized way. It is new to you and can be disconcerting.
A hearing aid let’s you be a part of the conversation again.
After they get hearing aids, many people say they didn’t realize how much of life they were missing. They had no idea their hearing had gotten so bad.
This does not mean that hearing loss itself is restored. It’s that sounds are heard as they used to be heard. You get that feeling that you are who you used to be. Sounds, sound the same.
A hearing aid is Botox for sound. You still have wrinkles, but you don’t notice as much. All of this makes you feel better about yourself and…well, dare I say, younger!
Then there’s the increased risk for dementia…
If you need to struggle to hear, the “cognitive load” on your brain increases. Your neurological network cannot make as many connections because things simply pass you by.
Think of it this way. If your voicemail is full, no one can leave a message…same with a busy brain working on processing sound. Instead of paying attention to what is said or the surrounding sounds of music, nature etc., you are trying to hear it. The brain is too occupied simply trying to hear the sounds to form Neurons that add knowledge and memory.
If you don’t get help, your brain could shrink
Yes, it could happen. The brain does structurally shrink as we age. Hearing loss can change the structure of the brain according to the leading researchers from Johns Hopkins. The part of the brain that losses grey matter or brain tissue from the lowered ability to hear, is the “auditory cortex.” This supports speech understanding. Lose your hearing, lose your communication skills.
Dr Arthur Wingfield, the Einstein of hearing loss, has sited and published study after study revealing the detrimental effect of unattended hearing loss on brain structure.
Yet, he starts his articles lamenting the statistics on the millions who will not pay attention. He tells us that hearing loss also results in more falls, more imbalance and more hospitalizations.
Ok, if this falls on deaf ears (see what I did there), I saved the worst for last.
You will die earlier if you don’t get your hearing tested and do something about it.
A National Institute of Health study found folks with more severe loss who used aids lived longer than those with less loss who left it unattended. Moreover, the males in the study were more likely to die of diseases like heart failure if they had unattended loss.
Now, full disclosure, the mortality links to hearing loss are questioned by some researchers as insufficiently conclusive. The hearing loss if not causing death… but there is a correlation. Even the possibility of a connection is compelling and frightening to me.
What to do next.
The National Institute on Deafness offers a ten question self-assessment to give you an inkling of whether you should be tested. The site also shows you types and diagrams of hearing aids and other alternatives like cochlea implants and more. So, visit.
The story of Gretchen
If you read the original Listen Up! Article, I wrote of Fran the 94-year old who hosts our weekly meditation sessions. She takes care of her hearing, but at her age the energy she expends to hear led to a shortening of our premeditation discussions.
I told my meditation group about the article I wrote and got a surprise.
One of the younger women in our group, gracefully moved away her auburn hair and showed us a tiny hearing aid.
“I got it early” she said. “I wasn’t really engaging the way I use to. The doctor said there was a small loss.”
I asked her if it helped. “Yes, absolutely,” she replied. “Also, I discovered that if you take care of it sooner, the brain readjusts whereas if left alone, the part of the brain that processes sound degenerates.”
Our discussion is what motivated me to do further research and write this (along with my husband’s lack of interest.)
Here’s a simple twist on a well-known phrase—“If you DON’T hear something, do something.” And tell others. The more we reveal our hearing loss, the more it gets normalized, like reading glasses or teeth implants.