By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Every baby born in a hospital receives a newborn hearing exam. Unfortunately, the next time that the person’s hearing is considered is typically once a significant degree of hearing is lost.
Parents of young children may find themselves repeating directions to a seeming oblivious child. Or the child may hold musical toys close to hear them or turn up the volume on devices.
“They may need the TV volume turned louder than what others like to listen,” said. Nicole Anzolone, an audiologist with Syracuse Hearing Solutions. “It can affect their ability to learn and use language.”
Anzolone said that school-aged children may seem to not listen in school, affecting their performance. They may keep the TV or other devices loud or seem confused when given directions that are age-appropriate in complexity.
For adults, it’s typically other adults who signal a hearing problem is present, as the one with hearing loss will ask others to repeat what they say—or miss it altogether.
“People with hearing loss a lot of times don’t know they have hearing loss, but I bet their family and work know,” said Clayton Andrews, a board certified audiologist with more than 35 years’ experience, who operates Upstate Hearing Solutions in Oswego.
Some less obvious signs he included are not hearing the crickets at night or the birds during the day. Dizziness or ringing in the ears (tinnitus) can also indicate a hearing problem.
Losing hearing can cause different and significant problems across the lifespan.
“Hearing is very important for developing speech and communication,” Andrews said. “With a hearing loss, it’s very difficult to have appropriate language skills.”
For school-aged children who have lifelong hearing loss, early intervention can help them stay abreast with their schoolwork. Neglecting hearing issues can cause them to fall behind.
Andrews said that working adults with untreated hearing loss tend to make less income than those who hear well. One factor is that not hearing correctly for long periods of time can make workers appear inept, ambivalent or uncommitted. For people working in environments such as construction or agriculture, not hearing well can compromise their safety because they don’t realize what they’re missing.
Waiting can also make acclimating to hearing aids more challenging as the brain has to relearn how to process sounds again. Untreated hearing loss can also increase risk for falls.
“If you have hearing loss, don’t leave it untreated; it can lead to auditory depravation: depriving your brain of sound, which can lead to processing sound later,” said Kristopher Rookey, hearing instrument specialist at Port City Hearing in Oswego. “Your understanding will decrease. When the brain forgets how to do something, it’s harder to do in the long run.”
He added that not hearing can cause isolation, as people become disengaged, though physicallypresent. This contributes to depression.
“If you have hearing loss, it’s absolutely important to take care of it sooner than later,” Rookey said.
For older adults, letting hearing loss go too long can increase the risk of cognitive impairment because the part of the brain stimulated by hearing sounds receives less input. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that 40% of dementia and early cognitive decline is modifiable. Part of that involves treating hearing loss.
“If addressed early enough, there’s a 19%-20% reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia,” Anzolone said.
She added that even waiting one to three years before treating mild hearing loss can change the brain.
Unfortunately, it can take many people a long time to discover and treat hearing loss—the average time is seven years, even though their insurance often covers the entire cost of hearing aids.