Undertreated & Undiagnosed: Age-Related Hearing Loss

As the Boomer generation ages into another phase of life, the number of people living with hearing loss is expected to rise. Less than 20 percent of people who could benefit from hearing aids will adopt this proven and successful intervention.

And although most people will readily acknowledge that hearing health is an important ingredient for a vibrant life, only a small percentage of the population maintains a regular schedule for hearing screenings.

Causes of hearing loss 

While there are preventative measures one can take in order to reduce the risk of hearing loss, age is one of the leading predictors of the condition. According to the National Institute of health, one in three people over the age of 65 has hearing loss, making it one of the leading chronic health issues facing the country. As people age, the percentage of affected folks also climbs, as more than 80 percent of people over the age of 85.

How hearing loss works

The natural process of aging, over time, wears on the structure and tissues of the inner ear, specifically the sensitive inner ear cells that are responsible for much of the heavy lifting in the hearing process. They gather the noise from around us and transform it into sound information, in the form of electrical signals, which are then sent to the brain’s processing centers for interpretation.

As the health of these inner ear cells degrades, we lose them. They are non-regenerative, like other cells in the body, which means that as they decline they do not reproduce or repair themselves. Instead, we have less cells to gather sound. The brain receives less sound information and we experience this as hearing loss.

Similar to the process of age-related hearing loss, excessive noise can also harm the inner ear cells. This can happen all at once in a violent event like an explosion or collision. It can also happen slowly and over time when the ears are exposed to noise that is slightly higher than safe, but regularly and over years and even decades.

Symptoms of hearing loss

As we lose the power of the inner ear cells and send less sound information to the brain, ‘gaps’ begin to appear in what we are able to hear. We lose the ability to hear certain frequencies clearly, typically at the higher end of the spectrum. We also lose mid-range frequencies, which is where human voices fall.

For this reason, it becomes difficult to understand or hear what people are saying. Early symptoms of hearing loss can make it seem as though everyone is mumbling or slurring their speech. Conversations can become frustrating, particularly phone calls where visual context is lacking. People with hearing loss might find themselves relying on closed captioning in order to understand dialogue in movies and television. Other behavioral changes that indicate hearing loss might be asking friends and family to repeat themselves more than usual in order to comprehend what is being said.

The high cost of avoiding treatment

There are all sorts of barriers between people choosing to intervene in hearing loss with hearing aids or cochlear implants. The cost can be prohibitive for some. And while it’s true that the initial investment may seem hefty, the cost of not treating hearing loss tends to be far greater. In a longitudinal study from Johns Hopkins, researchers found that people with untreated hearing loss paid almost fifty percent more in health costs over a period of ten years than their peers without hearing loss.

Some insurance companies will subsidize the cost of hearing aids and states vary on whether Medicaid will do so. It is in all of our best interests to advocate for more spending on providing older adults with hearing health coverage because healthy hearing has a profound impact on quality of life. When our communities are healthier and more vibrant, we all benefit.

But even more so than the financial burden, hearing loss delivers a real cost to our overall well being. Untreated, the condition is associated with a higher risk of falls, damaged interpersonal relationships, limited mobility, and a range of mental and emotional issues. It has been linked with decreased earnings in the workforce and it can even amplify the risk of future dementia diagnoses.

Schedule a hearing consultation today

In order to protect yourself from the collateral damage of hearing loss, it’s important to regularly monitor your hearing health. Schedule a hearing consultation with our highly trained team today, and we chart your brightest path forward to healthier hearing.