What You Lose When You Lose Your Hearing

Hearing loss is such a sneaky beast. Here's what you need to know.

You barely notice it at first.

Turning up the volume, asking “what’d you say?” too often, struggling to hear people sitting at your table in a crowded restaurant.

Pretty soon, you’re nodding in agreement without knowing exactly what someone said — or even disengaging from conversations to concentrate on your plate, wondering if it’s time to learn how to lip read.

Say What?

Age-related hearing loss progresses slowly and usually affects both ears equally. One of the first signs? Having trouble hearing or understanding speech in crowded environments. (That’s especially frustrating if your companion is soft-spoken.)

If you sometimes feel alone in your hearing loss misery, you’re not:

  • Nearly 38 million other Americans struggle with their hearing — and that number is increasing as our population ages.

  • Approximately one-third of us between ages 65 and 74 — and nearly half of us over age 75 — have hearing loss.

  • Hearing loss is now the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia — even more than smoking, high blood pressure and lack of exercise. Even mild hearing loss doubles dementia risk say experts from Johns Hopkins.

What’s Age Got to Do With It?

Remember those loud, ear-splitting concerts or music piped in from headphones? The ones that left your ears literally ringing for days? (Ah, those days…) That ringing was caused by damage to the very fine hair cells lining your ear from sound waves. Repeated exposure — as in one too many concerts — is likely one of the culprits for the state of your hearing today.

Sad fact: These cells do not regrow, and such hearing loss is permanent. But if you’re having trouble hearing, there are likely other factors at play as well:

  • Degeneration. Aging can cause the inner ear structures to degrade over time.

  • Earwax. It gets worse with age (sorry). If too much builds up, it can block your ear canal, obstructing the conduction of sound waves.

  • Some medications. Certain chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics and even Viagra can damage the inner ear. Aspirin too (in high doses) as well as some other pain relievers also can affect your hearing temporarily.

  • Certain medical conditions or illnesses. Diabetes can contribute to hearing loss. So can other conditions like Meniere’s disease or meningitis. (High fever can damage the cochlea).

Hearing Loss + Dementia

It’s true. Hearing loss can prompt conditions that can lead to an increased risk of dementia, including:

  1. Social isolation. If you can’t hear, you may be more hesitant to go out. If you do go out, you’re probably less likely to engage in conversation.

  2. Your brain working harder to process sound, taking it away from concentrating on other cognitive tasks.

  3. Memory loss. It’s difficult to remember information you don’t hear clearly. And if your brain is not stimulated enough it tends to atrophy.

Two More Less Obvious Impacts

  1. You can develop walking problems and might even fall more easily. You may not even realize it, but while you walk, your ears pick up subtle cues that help with balance. And see No. 2 above: If your brain is working harder to process sounds it may not be thinking as hard to put one foot in front of the other. #multitaskingfail

  2. Your definition of a good restaurant changes. “It’s not just sex and sleep that change with age,” writes Frank Bruni in this New York Times article. “It’s supper.” According to Bruni, the “merciless ricocheting of sound” in noisy restaurants is enough to take your appetite away.

    Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

    Hearing. It’s not just for listening anymore.

    Leave a comment


For a Pause

  1. If you’re tempted to dig out your earwax with a Q-tip, read this. You may actually be doing the opposite and pushing the wax further into the ear. #defeatingthepurpose.

  2. Only about 20 percent of people who need hearing aids use them. Cost, stigma, appearance are a few of the reasons people opt out. But today’s hearing aids are smaller and easier than ever to use. You might want to hear the professionals out on this one.

  3. Wondering where to get a hearing test? Audiologists are trained to help prevent, diagnose and treat hearing disorders. Hear, hear.

  4. Hearing aid as fashion accessory? I’ll take the gold and black one, please.

One More Thing

We’ll just leave this here.

Until next week, stay well. Stay healthy. Stay safe.

See you next time!


People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never shared
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
The Sound of Silence, Simon and Garfunkel

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