Why Hearing Health Is Far More Important Than We Thought, And What We Can Do To Be Proactive

It seems every week there is a new report linking hearing loss to a host of diseases and conditions.  Why did it take us so long to realize whatever happens to one part of the body often affects other areas?

Homeostasis– The tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes (www.dictionary.com)

For starters, most of us who have worn hearing aids have foot the bill out of our own pockets for decades.  It seems the insurance industry did not make the connection between hearing loss and how it can affect overall health.  That is unfortunate.  Expensive for us, and perhaps in the end expensive for them if you count the number of people who have not treated hearing loss over the years because it was cost-prohibitive if the connection to disease is correct.  Everything we do, every emotion, every small action contributes to our homeostasis.

There are studies going as far back as the 1960s that have studied hearing loss and coronary heart disease.  Samuel Rosen and Pekka Olin working out of The Mount Sinai Hospital and New York Eye and Ear Infirmary published an article entitled Hearing Loss and Coronary Heart Disease. They studied members of the Mabaan tribe in southeast Sudan and compared them to Americans in industrial areas of the United States.  Diet and stress in America were compared to the simple life and diet of the Mabaan tribe and their quiet surroundings.

In 2014 Dr. Frank Lin, M.D. Ph.D published an article Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss.  In this article, Dr. Lin discussed the link between dementia and “fast-track” brain shrinkage in older adults.  

According to the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org), hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as it is  in those who don’t have the disease.  With 86 million adults in the U.S. who have pre-diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30 percent higher than those with normal blood glucose.  Still, the connection remains unknown.

In a WEBMD article penned by Kathleen Doheny, hearing loss is associated with depression in American adults, especially women and in both sexes younger than age 70.

If that isn’t enough, some statin drug studies have implied a possible connection between hearing loss and using the drugs.  Some diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide are suspected of increasing the chances of diabetes as well as one beta blocker drug.  So the new question would be, is there also a prescription drug connection to inducing these conditions and/or hearing loss? Either way, these drugs are often life-saving solutions to an immediate and bigger danger.

So what can we do to be proactive?

  1.  It seems the same healthy diet for heart disease, diabetes and other conditions is prescribed for overall health.  What role does sugar, salt, unhealthy fats play in hearing loss and other conditions?  There are many books out there that discuss these conditions and optimum health.  Some of my favorite ones are by Dr. Andrew Weil (drweil.com), Dr. Mark Hyman (drhyman.com), Dr. Dean Ornish (www.deanornish.com), Dr. David Perlmutter (drperlmutter.com) and Dr. William Davis (wheatbellyblog.com).  Mark Bittman (markbittman.com) has written some good cookbooks with healthy recipes.
  2. Get a complete physical.  
  3. Exercise not only keeps the arteries healthy, it helps to move glucose into the right places and out of your body.  In addition, it has been shown to improve mood and lessen depression.
  4. Meditate.  Find a quiet place after a busy day.  This may seem odd to say as choosing amplification over silence is theoretically one of the best ways to keep an active and healthy brain.  But at the end of the day, amplification can be tiring as anyone with either hearing aids or cochlear implants will tell you. Controlling stress is equally important.
  5. Stay connected.  We are so lucky to be living at a time when there are captioned phones, captioned TVs, amplifying and flashing devices, captioned Broadway shows and movies, amplifying devices in museums and state-of-the art accessories for both hearing aid and cochlear implant users.
  6. Take a chance.  Try something new.  Be an active participant in your own story. Keep a journal.  Read good books that inspire you to be your best you.
  7. Join an advocacy group such as Hearing Loss Association of America, (hearingloss.org), or Association of Late-Deafened Adults (www.alda.org) or Say What Club (saywhatclub.com).
  8. Get a dog.  Some preliminary studies have shown having a dog can affect blood pressure positively, improve mood and overall well being.  You might want to look into getting a service dog with Canine Companions for Independence (www.cci.org) or Dogs for the Deaf  (www.dogsforthedeaf.org).
  9.  Don’t get discouraged.  People with hearing loss have the same needs as those who don’t, — family connections and positive interpersonal relationships, good friends, good times, respect in the workplace and last but not least, a good belly laugh.  Find a reason to laugh every single day.

The best way we can use this information connecting these conditions to hearing loss is to consider it a heads up and do everything we can to prevent or control these conditions and be positive.

 

 

 

 

Hearing Loss and Aging: Fact or Fallacy?

We’ve all been present at some time or another when someone makes a hurtful comment about hearing loss.  Often, these comments imply hearing loss and aging go hand in hand.

“The ears are the first thing to go, haha.” How many times have we heard this?

Sometimes we witness people imitating a nineteenth-century horn placed in the ear or cupping the ear imitating how we look when we struggle to hear.

Over the years, one of the main reasons I have heard friends or family give when they are resistant to getting help is the negative stereotype society has placed on wearing these devices.  We’ve all seen the advertisements claiming the manufacturer has the smallest device to offer, almost invisible!  Finally, the industry has realized that a plastic flesh-colored instrument still looks like a hearing aid.  Both the hearing aid and cochlear implant manufacturers have realized that many people really want something that is small or similar to mainstream Bluetooth devices.

Is there any truth that hearing loss is a sign of aging?  The short answer is sometimes.  Babies are born everyday who are deaf.  Sometimes, children who are born deaf have multiple disabilities, and sometimes being deaf is their only disability.

Let’s talk about the adult population.  Here are some interesting facts about hearing loss, disease and aging:

“Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most of us as we grow older.  It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults.” (nidcd.nih.gov)

“A recent study found that hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as it is in those who don’t have the disease.  Also, of the 86 million adults in the U.S. who have pre-diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30 percent higher than in those with normal blood glucose.” (diabetes.org)

“Studies have shown that a healthy cardiovascular system–a person’s heart, arteries and veins–has a positive effect on hearing.  Conversely, inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss.”  (better hearing.org)

Having a stroke may damage the areas of your brain related to hearing–this can cause hearing loss. (www.nhs.uk)

Dementia – Many of us who belong to the Hearing Loss Association of America (www.hearingloss.org), have had the opportunity to hear Dr. Frank Lin speak.  Dr. Lin, as an assistant professor at John Hopkins and an otologist and epidemiologist studies the effects of hearing loss in older adults.  According to an article in the January 15, 2015 Chicago Tribune, “A 2011 study of some 600 older adults found that those with hearing loss at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop dementia than adults with normal hearing.  In fact, the more severe the hearing loss, the more likely they were to develop dementia; volunteers with mild, moderate and severe loss were two, three and five times more likely to develop dementia than those with normal hearing. (chicagotribune.com)

I found this interesting because as we age, our metabolism slows down:   In a 2010 study, Shinichi Someya, et al  found that a caloric restriction extends the life span and health span of a variety and species and slows the progression of age-related hearing loss.  The study implies this may be true in mammals. (journals.plos.org)

There are other areas of our well being that hearing loss can affect.  Many people with hearing loss are isolated, depressed, lack socialization and connections, and all of these can affect our homeostasis.  As some of this research implies, the ear is not an isolated part of our being.

Finally, to get back to the beginning of this article which references jokes about the ears being the first thing to go, countless studies by health professional such as gerontologists, hospice workers and others will tell you at the end of life, hearing is the last sense to go.

“Most people with a terminal illness become unconscious in the last few hours or even days before death.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know you are there.  Many palliative care and hospice professionals will tell you that hearing is often the last sense to go at the end of life. ” (m.webmd.com)

Well after your loved one can no longer speak, he or she can still hear you say, “I love you.”  (m.webmd.com)  I think that’s pretty amazing.