The Importance of Getting Your Hearing Checked
Taking care of your overall health can be busy business. For instance, it is typically recommended for individuals aged 30 - 40 to get a physical every other year. Once you turn 50 a physical is recommended annually. Interspersed in those years are recommendations for eye exams, dental, breast exams, colonoscopies, lung scans, prostate exams, and many other appointments and health checks designed to proactively protect your overall health. One aspect of our health though has been overlooked by medical professionals for years and that is your sense of hearing. Dr. Melissa Wikoff, an audiologist and expert in all things hearing, joins us to discuss why checking our hearing is so often overlooked and the importance of changing this “unhealthy” trend.
Let’s start by talking about why individuals neglect to get their hearing checked. A big first reason is a general lack of knowledge around hearing health. Many people have never even heard of an audiologist, the professional who cares for a patients hearing. This is partly do to audiology being a fairly new industry. Recent advances in medical technology though have exponentially advanced our ability to care for hearing and propelled the audiology industry over the past 25 years. This is all great, but it makes for a large gap with regards to general knowledge of hearing health. “Some of the patients I see in my practice are in their 70’s and 80’s and are getting their first ever hearing test. If not, their last test may have been in grade school”, explains Dr. Melissa Wikoff. Dr. Wikoff owns and operates a small audiology clinic called Peachtree Hearing in Marietta, GA. “Its truly a shame to neglect such an important part of our life, the way in which we experience the world. I advise my patients, regardless of whether they have hearing loss, to get their hearing checked once every year or two.” Dr. Wikoff also participates in hearing advocacy around her community to help get out the word about how to properly care for your hearing health.
Another big reason that someone would neglect to get their hearing checked is that they don’t know something is wrong. Hearing, in comparison to vision, is much more perceptual. Unlike vision it’s harder to gauge on your own that you aren’t hearing well. Dr. Wikoff explains, “That is why it is so important to have your hearing checked by a qualified professional. Someone who understands that each persons sense of hearing is personal and nuanced. You have take in to consideration so many factors when caring for someones hearing. It takes years of study and practice to be able to properly treat hearing and hearing loss”
One of the most obvious reasons that someone doesn’t get their hearing checked is that they are afraid of the results. They may be struggling to hear, but they don’t want to face the reality that they have an issue. Often times people associate hearing loss with old age as well. This is actually a misnomer, as hearing loss effects people of all ages. Nevertheless, many feel like wearing hearing aids gives the appearance of being old. “These days hearing aids are so small they are usually unnoticeable”, explains Dr. Wikoff. “What makes a person appear elderly though is simply not hearing or asking for repetition constantly.” More importantly, the sooner you treat a hearing loss the better off you will be. “It’s use it or lose it”, remarks Dr. Wikoff. “Your organs of hearing are just like any muscle in your body. If you don’t use them, they atrophy over time. Therefore it’s important to correct a hearing loss to prevent any further decline when we find it”.
Another big reason for a lack of individuals caring for their hearing health is that their primary doctors aren’t recommending it. There is a huge push right now in the hearing and speech community to advocate for regular hearing testing to be part of your general health assessment. Your doctors, regardless of specialty, should be asking you if you’ve had your hearing checked recently. Often times hearing loss can be a sign of a more significant or serious condition, so it is important to check as part of your overall health. A sudden hearing loss could for instance indicate an acoustic neuroma, a type of cancerous tumor that occurs in the tiny organs of the ear. It could also indicate a neurological issue. Just like having health blood pressure levels gives us an indication of general health, so does hearing.
Besides being a window into other aspects of your health, hearing also has a direct effect on your health I think everyone understands that our sense of hearing is precious and that we should check it to ensure it’s health and longevity. However, there are a number of other reasons why checking your hearing is important, especially for those over 50 years of age.
First of all if you neglect to check your hearing you may be missing a normal hearing loss. Living with hearing loss untreated is proven to have many negative and potentially life threatening effects. For instance, untreated hearing loss is proven to cause fatigue, irritability, depression, impaired memory, and overall diminished psychological health. In fact, a study from Johns Hopkins in 2013 showed that hearing loss accelerates brain function decline in older adults. Older adults with hearing loss were more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than older adults whose hearing is normal.
“I think it’s particularly important for seniors to have their hearing checked often”, explains Dr. Wikoff. “I’ve had a lot of baby boomers bring me their parents with concerns of cognitive decline. They say their parents don’t remember. A simple hearing test though showed us though that the real issue was hearing loss and not memory. That allowed us to fix the issue easily and allow the parent to stay independent and in their own home.”
It suffices to say that your hearing health not only gives us insight into your overall health, it has a direct impact on it as well. Please do get your hearing checked by a qualified professional like Dr. Wikoff at Peachtree Hearing!