We all put things off, routinely talking ourselves out of complex or uncomfortable chores in favor of something more pleasurable or fun. Distractions are all around as we tell ourselves that we will some day get around to whatever we’re presently working hard to avoid.
Usually, procrastination is fairly harmless. We might plan to clean out the basement, for example, by tossing or donating the items we seldom use. A clean basement sounds great, but the activity of actually lugging things to the donation center is not so pleasant. In the consideration of short-term pleasure, it’s very easy to notice countless alternatives that would be more enjoyable—so you put it off.
Other times, procrastination is not so innocent, and when it comes to hearing loss, it could be downright harmful. While no one’s idea of a good time is having a hearing exam, the latest research shows that neglected hearing loss has severe physical, mental, and social consequences.
To understand why, you have to begin with the effects of hearing loss on the brain itself. Here’s a well-known comparison: if any of you have ever broken a bone, let’s say your leg, you are aware of what occurs just after you take the cast off. You’ve lost muscle mass and strength from inactivity, because if you don’t consistently use your muscles, they get weaker.
The same happens with your brain. If you under-utilize the region of your brain that processes sounds, your capability to process auditory information becomes weaker. Researchers even have a name for this: they refer to it as “auditory deprivation.”
Back to the broken leg example. Let’s say you removed the cast from your leg but persisted to not make use of the muscles, depending on crutches to get around the same as before. What would happen? Your leg muscles would get steadily weaker. The same happens with your brain; the longer you go with hearing loss, the less sound stimulation your brain gets, and the more impaired your hearing gets.
That, in essence, is auditory deprivation, which can cause a host of other ailments the newest research is continuing to identify. For instance, a study directed by Johns Hopkins University reported that those with hearing loss experience a 40% decline in cognitive function compared to those with normal hearing, together with an enhanced risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.
Generalized cognitive decline also produces significant mental and social effects. A major study by The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) revealed that those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia, and were less likely to partake in social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids.
So what starts out as an annoyance—not having the ability to hear people clearly—brings about a downward spiral that disturbs all aspects of your health. The sequence of events is clear: Hearing loss leads to auditory deprivation, which produces general cognitive decline, which creates psychological harm, including depression and anxiety, which ultimately leads to social isolation, damaged relationships, and an elevated risk of developing major medical ailments.
The Benefits of Hearing Aids
So that was the bad news. The good news is equally encouraging. Let’s visit the broken leg illustration one last time. The moment the cast comes off, you start working out and stimulating the muscles, and after some time, you regain your muscle mass and strength.
The same process once again applies to hearing. If you increase the stimulation of sound to your brain with hearing aids, you can recover your brain’s ability to process and comprehend sound. This leads to better communication, better psychological health, and ultimately to better relationships. And, in fact, according to The National Council on the Aging, hearing aid users report improvements in nearly every area of their lives.
Are you ready to accomplish the same improvement?
Contemporary hearing aids have come a long way; existing models are remarkably effective and feature exceptional digital capabilities, like wireless connectivity, that strongly improve a person’s ability to hear along with their all-around quality of life.
But there is still room for improvement.
Particularly, in certain situations hearing aids have some difficulty with two things:
- Locating the source of sound
- Cutting out background noise
But that may soon change, as the most recent research in hearing aid design is being guided from a unusual source: the world of insects.
Why insects hold the answer to improved hearing aids
Both mammals and insects have the equivalent problem in regard to hearing: the transformation and amplification of sound waves into information the brain can use. What researchers are identifying is that the system insects use to solve this problem is in ways more proficient than our own.
The organs of hearing in an insect are smaller and more sensitive to a much wider range of frequencies, permitting the insect to identify sounds humans cannot hear. Insects also can detect the directionality and distance of sound in ways more exact than the human ear.
Hearing aid design has commonly been guided by the way humans hear, and hearing aids have had a tendency to supply straightforward amplification of inbound sound and transmission to the middle ear. But scientists are now asking a different question.
Borrowing inspiration from the natural world, they’re inquiring how nature—and its hundreds of millions of years of evolution—has attempted to solve the problem of detecting and perceiving sound. By evaluating the hearing mechanism of a variety of insects, such as flies, grasshoppers, and butterflies, scientists can borrow the best from each to make a completely new mechanism that can be utilized in the design of new and improved miniature microphones.
Insect-inspired miniature directional microphones
Researchers from University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, and the MRC/CSO Institute for Hearing Research (IHR) at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, will be evaluating hearing aids equipped with a unique type of miniature microphone inspired by insects.
The hope is that the new hearing aids will accomplish three things:
- More energy-efficient microphones and electronics that will eventually lead to smaller hearing aids, lower power usage, and extended battery life.
- The capability to more accurately locate the source and distance of sound.
- The ability to focus on specific sounds while reducing background noise.
Researchers will also be testing 3D printing procedures to improve the design and ergonomics of the new hearing aids.
The future of hearing aids
For most of their history, hearing aids have been engineered with the human hearing mechanism in mind, in an attempt to replicate the normal human hearing experience. Now, by asking a different set of questions, researchers are building a new set of goals. Instead of trying to RESTORE normal human hearing, perhaps they can AUGMENT it.
It has long been acknowledged that there are strong connections between sound, music, emotion, and memory, and that our personal experiences and tendencies determine the type and intensity of emotional reaction we have to specific sounds.
As an example, research has revealed these widespread associations between certain sounds and emotions:
- The sound of a thunderstorm evokes a feeling of either relaxation or anxiety, depending on the individual
- Wind chimes commonly evoke a restless feeling
- Rain evokes a feeling of relaxation
- Fireworks evoke a feeling of nostalgia and pleasurable memories
- The vibrations of a cell phone are often perceived as annoying
Other sounds have a more universal character. UCLA researchers have discovered that the sound of laughter is globally identified as a positive sound signifying enjoyment, while other sounds are globally associated with fear, anger, disgust, sadness, and surprise.
So why are we predisposed to particular emotional responses in the presence of specific sounds? And why does the reaction tend to vary between people?
Although the answer is still effectively a mystery, current research by Sweden’s Lund University yields some exciting insights into how sound and sound environments can affect humans on personal, emotional, and psychological levels.
Here are six psychological mechanisms through which sound may stir up emotions:
1. Brain-Stem Reflex
You’re seated quietly in your office when suddenly you hear a loud, abrupt crash. What’s your response? If you’re like most people, you become emotionally aroused and motivated to investigate. This kind of reaction is subconscious and hard-wired into your brain to alert you to potentially important or detrimental sounds.
2. Evaluative Conditioning
Many people frequently associate sounds with selected emotions depending on the circumstance in which the sound was heard. For example, listening to a song previously played on your wedding day may trigger feelings of joy, while the same song first listened to by someone during a bad breakup may yield the opposite feelings of sadness.
3. Emotional Contagion
When someone smiles or starts laughing, it’s tough to not smile and laugh yourself. Research carried out in the 1990s discovered that the brain may contain what are labeled as “mirror neurons” that are activated both when you are performing a task AND when you are observing someone else perform the task. When we hear someone talking while crying, for instance, it can be difficult to not also experience the corresponding feelings of sadness.
4. Visual Imagery
Let’s say you enjoy listening to CDs that contain only the sounds of nature. Why do you enjoy it? Presumably because it evokes a positive emotional experience, and, taking that even further, it most likely evokes some powerful visual images of the natural setting in which the sounds are heard. For example, try listening to the sounds of waves crashing and NOT visualizing yourself lounging at the beach.
5. Episodic Memory
Sounds can stimulate emotionally powerful memories, both good and bad. The sounds of rain can arouse memories of a pleasurable day spent at home, while the sound of thunder may induce memories associated with combat experience, as seen in post-traumatic stress disorder.
6. Music Expectancy
Music has been identified as the universal language, which makes sense the more you think about it. Music is, after all, only a random collection of sounds, and is pleasurable only because the brain imposes order to the sounds and interprets the order in a certain way. It is, in fact, your expectations about the rhythm and melody of the music that produce an emotional response.
Sound, Emotion, and Hearing Loss
Irrespective of your specific reactions to various sounds, what is certain is that your emotions are directly involved. With hearing loss, you not only lose the ability to hear particular sounds, you also lose the emotional impact associated with the sounds you can either no longer hear or can no longer hear properly.
With hearing loss, for example, nature walks become less gratifying when you can no longer hear the faint sounds of running water; music loses its emotional impact when you can’t differentiate specific instruments; and you place yourself at greater risk when you can’t hear fire alarms or other alerts to danger.
The truth is that hearing is more vital to our lives—and to our emotional lives—than we most likely realize. It also means that treating your hearing loss will probably have a greater impact than you realize, too.
What are some of your favorite sounds? What emotions do they evoke?
Are there any particular sounds or songs that make you feel happy, angry, annoyed, sad, or excited? Let us know in a comment.
The strange part of hearing loss is that we don’t seem to start appreciating our favorite sounds until after we’ve lost the capability to clearly hear them. We don’t pause to contemplate, for example, how much we enjoy a good conversation with a close friend until we have to persistently ask them to repeat themselves.
Whether it’s your favorite Mozart album or the songs of a Bluejay first thing in the morning, your total well being is closely connected to your ability to hear—whether you recognize it or not. And if you wait until after you’ve lost your hearing to come to this understanding, you’re going to expend a tremendous amount of time and effort working to get it back.
So how can you sustain your ability to hear?
Here are 6 ways you could lose your hearing and what you can do about it.
1. Genetics and aging
Age-related hearing loss, also called presbycusis, is the loss of hearing that progressively takes place as we grow older. Along with presbycusis, there is also some evidence suggesting that genetics plays a role, and that some of us are more prone to hearing loss than others.
While there’s not much you can do to avoid the aging process or tweak your genes, you can avoid noise-induced hearing loss from the other causes described below. And keep in mind that age-related hearing loss is much more complicated to treat if exacerbated by preventable damage.
Continuous direct exposure to sound volumes above 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss, which is not-so-good news if you happen to own a convertible. New research shows that driving a convertible with the top down at high speeds yields an average sound level of 90 decibels. Motorcyclists face even louder sounds and those who use the subway are at risk as well.
So does everybody either have to give up travel or live with permanent earplugs? Not exactly, but you should look for ways to reduce your cumulative noise exposure during travel. If you drive a convertible, roll up your windows and drive a little slower; if you own a motorcycle, wear a helmet and think about earplugs; and if you ride the subway, give some thought to buying noise-canceling headphones.
3. Going to work
As indicated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 22 million people in the US are exposed to potentially damaging noise volumes at work. The highest risk professions are in manufacturing, farming, construction, the military, and the music industry.
The last thing you want is to spend your entire work life amassing hearing loss that will prevent you from enjoying your retirement. Consult your employer about its hearing protection plan, and if they don’t have one, consult your local hearing specialist for personalized solutions.
4. Taking drugs and smoking
Smoking interferes with blood flow, on top of other things, which may enhance your risk of developing hearing loss—if you really needed another reason to quit. Antibiotics, strong pain medications, and a significant number of other drugs are “ototoxic,” or damaging to the cells of hearing. In fact, there are more than 200 known ototoxic medications.
The bottom line: try to avoid consuming ototoxic drugs or medications unless absolutely necessary. Consult with your doctor if you have any questions.
5. Listening to music
85 is turning out to be quite an inconvenient number. All of our favorite activities generate decibel levels just over this threshold, and anything over 85 decibels can result in hearing loss. If the threshold were just slightly higher, say 100 decibels, we wouldn’t have to worry about it so much.
But 85 it is. And portable music players at full volume get to more than 100 decibels while rock concerts reach more than 110. The solution is simple: turn down your iPod, wear earplugs at concerts, and limit your exposure time to the music.
6. Getting sick or injured
Certain ailments, such as diabetes, along with any traumatic head injuries, places you at a higher risk of developing hearing loss. If you have diabetes, frequent exercise, a healthy diet, and consistent monitoring of blood sugar levels is critical. And if you ride a motorcycle, using a helmet will help prevent traumatic head injuries.
Talk to Your Hearing Specialist
While there are many ways to lose your hearing, a few easy lifestyle modifications can help you preserve your hearing for life. Keep in mind: the mild hassle of wearing custom earplugs, driving with the windows up, or turning down your iPod are small in comparison to the substantial inconvenience of hearing loss later in life.
Ready to take your hearing health seriously? Give us a call today.
The hearing healthcare marketplace has two barriers that prevent individuals from achieving healthier hearing:
- The inability to recognize hearing loss in the first place (owing to its slow onset), and
- The temptation to find a quick, easy, and inexpensive fix.
Regretfully, countless people who have overcome the first barrier have been lured into the supposedly “cheaper and easier” methods of correcting their hearing loss, whether it be through the purchase of hearing aids on the web, the purchase of personal sound amplifiers, or by visiting the big box stores that are much more concerned with profitability than with patient care.
Regardless of the lure of these simple fixes, the fact is that local hearing care providers are your best option for better hearing, and here are the reasons why.
Local hearing care providers use a customer-centric business model
National chain stores are profitable for one reason: they sell a high volume of low-priced goods and services at low prices in the name of larger revenue. National chains are all about efficiency, which is a pleasant way of saying “get as many people in and out the door as rapidly as possible.”
Undoubtedly, this profit-centric model works great with most purchases, because you most likely don’t need expert, individualized care to help choose your undershirts and bath soap. Customer service simply doesn’t factor in.
However, problems develop when this business model is extended to services that do call for expert, individualized care—such as the correction of hearing loss. National chains are not interested in patient outcomes because they can’t be; it’s too time-consuming and flies in the face of the high volume “see as many patients as possible” business model.
Local hearing care providers are completely different. They’re not obsessed with short-term profits because they don’t have a board of directors to answer to. The success of a local practice is centered on patient outcomes and high quality of care, which results in satisfied patients who stay loyal to the practice and spread the positive word-of-mouth advertising that creates more referrals.
Local practices, for that reason, thrive on delivering high quality care, which will benefit both the patient and the practice. By comparison, what will happen if a national chain can’t deliver quality care and satisfied patients? Simple, they use national advertising to get a continual flow of new patients, promising the same “quick and cheap fix” that lured in the original customers.
Local hearing care providers have more experience
Hearing is complex, and like our fingerprints, is unique to everybody, so the frequencies I may have trouble hearing are distinct from the frequencies you have trouble hearing. In other words, you can’t just take surrounding sound, make it all louder, and push it into your ears and count on good results. But this is in essence what personal sound amplifiers, along with the cheaper hearing aid models, accomplish.
The truth is, the sounds your hearing aids amplify—AND the sounds they don’t—HAVE to complement the way you, and only you, hear. That’s only going to take place by:
- Having your hearing professionally tested so you know the EXACT characteristics of your hearing loss, and…
- Having your hearing aids professionally programmed to boost the sounds you have difficulty hearing while distinguishing and repressing the sounds you don’t want to hear (such as low-frequency background noise).
For the hearing care provider, this is no straight forward task. It requires a lot of education and patient care experience to be able to conduct a hearing test, help patients choose the right hearing aid, skillfully program the hearing aids, and offer the patient training and aftercare necessary for optimal hearing. There are no shortcuts to supplying comprehensive hearing care—but the results are well worth the time and energy.
Make your choice
So, who do you want to trust with your hearing? To someone who views you as a transaction, as a customer, and as a means to reaching sales goals? Or to an experienced local professional that cares about the same thing you do—helping you obtain the best hearing possible, which, by the way, is the lifeblood of the local practice.
As a basic rule, we advise that you avoid buying your hearing aids anywhere you see a sign that reads “10 items or less.” As local, experienced hearing professionals, we provide comprehensive hearing healthcare and the best hearing technology to match your specific needs, lifestyle, and budget.
Still have questions? Give us a call today.