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The Multiple and Amazing Benefits of Hearing Aids

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I am a retired Internist. But if I came up to you and said that, with a wave of my hand, I could greatly improve many of your symptoms without pills or psychotherapy or physiotherapy and with little or no cost and in just a few weeks, you would probably think I was crazy or a liar.

The list of diseases or symptoms or complaints that I dare to say I could improve in a similar manner are symptoms related to mild to severe deafness. In these people, the disease is usually due to nerve damage of unknown cause (Presbycusis). I could reverse or greatly improve not only the deafness by hearing aids but also improve the many other problems which come from the reduced hearing. These include:

Depression, anxiety, paranoia, and frustration and anger at people because they always seem to mumble and do not speak clearly, and therefore you cannot understand them.

In addition, this lack of hearing ability can cause:

  • Irritability, negativism, anger, sadness and insecurity
  • Sleepiness
  • Fatigue and low energy, tension and stress from difficult social situations
  • Avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
  • Social rejection and loneliness
  • Reduced alertness
  • Increased risk of personal safety (eg not hearing warnings like shouts or honking horns)
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired ability to learn new tasks
  • Reduced job performance and earning power
  • Reduced psychological and overall health
  • Increased number of falls and accidents
  • Potential decrease in cognitive skills
  • Reduced short term memory

Higher incidence of mental impairment can lead to dementia (Alzheimer's Disease). Elderly people with hearing loss are three times as likely to develop dementia than those without hearing loss. Indeed, in those with severe hearing loss the risk of dementia increases five times. The hearing aid can restore dementia toward normal or even prevent it if the hearing loss is treated early.

All these complications of deafness in individuals with hearing loss cause people to have more difficulties with everyday tasks such as understanding conversations with loved ones or friends or hearing the radio, TV, music or telephone conversations. This frustration with the inability to hear and understand conversations frequently causes older people to avoid restaurants, or other noisy places. They have trouble shopping because they cannot understand cashiers, sales clerks or others. Relatives and friends of hearing-impaired individuals can also be adversely affected. This includes relationships with children, grandchildren, other relatives and friends.

All this can result in a decrease in their willingness to socialize or engage in a conversation with a loved one or friends whom they cannot understand or who cannot understand them.

The most common cause of deafness in the elderly is presbycusis - nerve deafness due to nerve damage of unknown cause in most cases. The loss that occurs is in high-pitched sounds - the consonants d,f,h,s,sh which are not heard well by people with this condition. The vowels on the other hand are low-pitched and these people can make them out.

Here are two normal sentences – the way they sound to normals and the way they sound to those with this hearing loss.

"I don't seem to feel sharp today. I hope I feel better tomorrow."

These words would come across to those with presbycusis as "I ont eem oo eel arp ooday. I ope I eel ber oomorow".

Could you understand that gobbledygook gook? It is no wonder they can get all the symptoms listed above. The frustration they feel must be huge. Since women and children tend to have higher pitch than men, it is harder to understand them than men if you are deaf.

Only 25% of physicians routinely ask their elderly patients about difficulty hearing while about 60% of elderly get the disease. Many elderly go for years without seeing an ear doctor and getting an audiology exam to make the diagnosis. What a shame.

We now know that reduced hearing reduces cognitive function (your ability to think) by causing brain damage and that this function can return to normal or at least improve if the hearing is improved with a hearing aid!

Even if people have proven hearing loss, some refuse to get hearing aids because of denial, vanity, perceived stigma or cost. All four health funds in Israel pay for the hearing aids.

Many recent studies have shown that the patients and their loved ones and care-givers report great improvement in the patients' quality of life, social interaction, communication, cognitive function, fatigue and depression with the use of hearing aids.

The myth that hearing loss "isn't that bad" has been shattered. Untreated hearing loss affects more than hearing – it affects people socially, mentally and physically. The good news is that properly fitted hearing aids have been shown to reduce or eliminate the challenges associated with hearing loss.

Hearing aids should be fitted and their use explained by audiology experts including how to put in the batteries, how to clean the device and how to turn it on and off and increase or decrease the volume.

In summary, the auditory nerve and the brain have to be stimulated to maintain hearing and brain function and if the hearing loss is not treated the hearing and the mental function both deteriorate.

Another nice touch is that with a hearing aid you will hear the birds chirping and the leaves rustling again since both are high-pitched sounds and will return while using a hearing aid - just like the human voice.

Remember … Hearing aids are good for your general health not just for hearing. It is amazing how anxiety, depression, sleepiness, panic etc can melt away or at least improve after using a hearing aid.

Donald S Silverberg, MD, FRCP (Canada) and MSc. Retired Internist and Nephrologist and Prof. of Medicine Emeritus, Tel Aviv University 

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Tuesday, 18 January 2022

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