Most Australians think of hearing loss as part of the normal ageing process. However, the nature of modern life and our personal choices, have increased the risk of acquiring hearing loss much earlier in life. Chances are that you probably know someone, a friend or family member, who is affected by a hearing impairment. If you want to lighten their load a little, here are some gift ideas for people with hearing loss.
Hearing loss can occur when any part of the ear or auditory system is not working in the way it is intended to. Hearing loss can have many different causes, almost a quarter of hearing impairments are however acquired as a consequence of noise exposure.
The prevalence of hearing loss is on the rise. In the future, an ageing population and the increased exposure to loud sounds from music or workplace noise are going to become an increasingly large issue. Men will be more affected than women. Hearing loss prevalence among Australian men is projected to increase to 31 per cent.
By 2050, one in four Australians is expected to suffer from hearing loss.
Hearing loss in the workplace: Find out if your job is damaging your hearing.
It’s important to understand that hearing loss impacts all aspects of life, including your emotional well-being, physical health, leisure activities as well as your career. However, many people who have hearing loss let it go untreated for too long.
Research suggests that there is a link between untreated hearing loss and mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. These mental health problems may arise as a result of a lack of interaction with others due to fear of being judged for having hearing loss, embarrassment over mishearing conversations and anxiety in social situations. In severe cases, hearing loss can lead to depression due to social isolation.
Hearing loss has also been linked to increase risk of fall among the elderly and increase the risk of accidental injuries. Untreated hearing loss also increases the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Researchers have confirmed various reasons for this cognitive decline due to hearing loss. For example, untreated hearing loss imposes a cognitive load on the brain meaning the brain is overworked daily to understand others.
This creates a strain on our brain and reduces its overall functional capacity. Also, the lack of brain stimulation impacts parts of the brain that receive and process sound. The last proposed mechanism for cognitive decline is associated with a lack of social interaction with others due to their hearing loss. Social isolation further reduces the acoustic stimulus to the brain, increasing the risk of cognitive decline.
Studies have shown that proper usage of various amplification devices can slow the progression of dementia. In 2018 a study found that the rate of cognitive decline as assessed with the memory test was slower after participants started wearing hearing aids. This finding suggests that effective identification and treatment of hearing impairment can significantly preserve cognitive health.
Apart from hearing aids, there is a range of other ways you can improve your hearing health. These include Cochlear implants, assistive listening devices (for example frequency modulated systems also known as FM systems), communication and listening tactics and auditory training.
The good news is, however, that you can protect your hearing by reducing your exposure to loud noise by wearing suitable protection including earmuffs or earplugs.
Communication and listening strategies when used in combination with amplification devices provide the maximum listening outcomes. Some communication strategies for hearing-impaired listeners include eliminating noise from interfering with speech. This can be done either by removing yourself from a noisy environment or positioning in the way, where you are facing away from the noise.
Another communication strategy involves using visual cues including facial expressions and lip cues of the communication partner to fully understand speech in competing for noise. Other strategies involve asking the speaker to speak slowly or simply request for repeats or rephrases when not understanding speech with communication partners.
Hearing aids increase the loudness of sound and clarity of sounds to help you hear better in a range of listening environments. Hearing aids essentially have three components: A microphone, an amplifier and speaker. Most hearing aids are battery-operated, and those batteries can be disposable or rechargeable.
Hearing aids come in many styles and price points and are suitable for a range of hearing losses and lifestyles. The three basic styles of hearing aids are Behind the Ear or BTE aids, In the ear or ITC aids and Receiver in the Ear or RIC aids.
Modern hearing aids also have advanced features including Bluetooth connectivity, television streaming, multiple programs, adaptive directionality, digital noise reduction, wind and feedback reduction, smartphone connectivity and many more.
Cochlear implant enhances the clarity of sounds and thus helps you understand speech. Unlike hearing aids which make sounds louder, cochlear implants bypass the damaged part of the ear (cochlear) and stimulate the auditory nerve directly.
A cochlear implant has two main parts: An external sound processor and implants which are surgically placed under the skin and attached to electrode arrays in the auditory nerve.
The external sound processor captures the sounds and transmits to the surgically implanted parts where the sound is converted into electrical impulses. The converted sound reaches the hearing nerve which relays information to the auditory cortex in the brain to be processed.
Cochlear implants are beneficial for individuals with moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears or profound hearing loss in one ear and normal hearing in the opposite ear. There is a strict criterion for cochlear implants candidacy-score of 65 per cent or less on speech recognition tests in the ear to be implanted and often involve multidisciplinary team collaboration.
ALD’s are essentially amplifiers which help hearing-impaired people to hear speech in specific environments including the theatre, restaurants, classrooms or churches. ALDs can be paired with hearing aids or some can be utilised on their own. ALDs may be given to people who are not able to manage a hearing aid, or they want to hear better in specific situations or if hearing aids are not suitable for them.
ALDs are particularly useful when the individual needs to listen to one person at a time or hear the television or radio. An example of assistive listening devices includes the FM system, which uses radio waves to deliver speech signals directly from the speaker’s mouth to the listener’s ears, overcoming distance from the speaker.
There are two basic components of a personal FM system. A transmitter microphone which is worn by the talker and a receiver which can be integrated into hearing aid or headphone worn by the listener. FM systems are popular in classroom settings with children as they reduce background noise and amplify the voice of the teacher in the classroom.
Some other forms of assistive listening devices include amplified telephones, vibrating alarm clocks, alerting devices and television headsets. ALDs also include induction loop systems and Bluetooth technology which can be paired with mobile phones and hearing devices.
Auditory training is a method to help individuals with hearing loss improve their abilities to interpret, process and assimilate auditory input. This can be done through structures exercises on auditory detection, discrimination, identification as well as comprehension.
There are various methods of delivery for Auditory training programs, these include via home-based online training programs such as Listening and Communication Enhancement (LACE) program and Angel Sound. Other methods include individual AT sessions and group AT sessions delivered over 9-10 weeks. Auditory training is commonly used in children with pre-lingual hearing loss and with a cochlear implant
Contact your local Attune Hearing Clinic to find out more about gifting hearing aids, hearing aid accessories, ALDs and auditory training!