Hearing loss is a common condition among older adults, furthermore treatment of age-related hearing loss can be an issue for many as well. What many may not know is untreated hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline. Understanding how these are linked can help with early detection as well as prevention and treatment.
What is auditory deprivation?
Auditory deprivation is the reduced exposure to sound and noise in your everyday environment. For those with hearing loss this can occur in different forms depending on the type of hearing loss.
One of the most common forms of hearing loss is age related. As we age, the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged over time. Because the origin of these hearing changes happen in the inner ear, it is considered a type of sensorineural hearing loss.
Age related hearing loss typically manifests first in the higher frequencies of sound. As mentioned, it is a gradual reduction in hearing function and therefore often goes undetected for some time. This means that the person experiencing these gaps in hearing might be experiencing auditory deprivation without fully realizing it.
Causes of auditory deprivation
As the saying goes, use it or lose it. Like a muscle that does not get used, your ability to hear and understand noise becomes more difficult when you don’t use it regularly.
- Untreated hearing loss- As mentioned previously, even minor changes to your hearing can cause auditory deprivation. Early detection and treatment is crucial to prevent further decline of hearing and other cognitive issues.
- Non-compliance with treatment- Sometimes, even when treatment such as hearing aids have been chosen, there can be a compliance issue. For various reasons, from comfort to sound, some have difficulty committing to wearing their hearing devices regularly.
Signs and Symptoms
Early detection of hearing loss requires paying attention to the small changes. Below are some signs and symptoms to look for if you suspect any changes to your hearing.
- Difficulty hearing in darker settings- This could mean that you are relying more on body language or lip reading than you realize.
- Difficulty understanding- A common statement by those with hearing loss is “I can hear you, I just can’t understand you.”
- Comments from others- You may start to receive comments from family or friends about them repeating themselves or that the television is too loud.
- Withdrawal from social interactions- Whether in person or on the phone, when communicating becomes more challenging people tend to remove themselves from those situations.
A good start for everyone, even if you haven’t experienced any signs of hearing loss yet, is to get a baseline hearing test. This will be helpful in the future if you do begin to have age related hearing loss in order to track the changes, then treatment can get you back to your previous baseline. When you meet with your hearing health provider, they will ask about your past occupational and medical history and advise how often you should get your hearing tested.
If you have already begun to experience some of these signs and symptoms, your hearing health provider will review your possible treatment options. The most common treatment for age related hearing loss is hearing aids.
- Hearing aids are an option for those with mild to severe hearing loss. They can be used in one or both ears and can be programmed to meet each person’s unique hearing needs exactly. Hearing aids do typically require an adjustment period. They do not fix hearing, rather work together with your ears to control the input of sound so that your brain can understand.
- Auditory training works similar to physical or occupation therapy by helping to retrain your brain to hear. This can be in the form of auditory training games or even listening to an audiobook. As you use your hearing more, the ability to hear can build back as well.
Understanding auditory deprivation and its link to cognitive decline is key to early detection, prevention, and eventual treatment if necessary. If you suspect that you are experiencing hearing loss or want to discuss auditory deprivation further, speak with a hearing health provider.