May is the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA)’s annual effort to raise awareness around hearing loss and communication disorders, Better Speech and Hearing Month. This year, the theme is “Communication for All,” with a focus on hearing loss awareness for people of all age groups.
Hearing Loss Affects People of All Ages
While hearing loss is often relegated to older Americans, age 65 and above, the reality is that hearing loss affects people of all ages. Indeed, the majority of cases of hearing loss occur amongst people age 65 and older, with one in three people experiencing some degree of hearing loss. Among people age 85 and older, 50% experience some degree of hearing loss.
In ASHA’s Better Speech and Hearing Month press release, they discuss the prevalence of hearing loss among younger people and the importance of identifying hearing loss as soon as possible: “According to the poll of 1,100 ASHA members – audiologists and speech-language pathologists – the number one barrier to early identification of communication disorders is lack of awareness about the warning signs among parents (46% said this was the case). A full 69% say parents of young children are not aware of the early warning signs of speech/language disorders – and 32% say that, on average, the symptoms of hearing loss are going undetected in children for 1 year or longer.”
The Importance of Seeking Treatment Early
Specifically addressing childhood hearing loss, Elise Davis-McFarland, ASHA’s President, says, “We know parents want the best for their children. However, they may hear messages that encourage a ‘wait and see’ approach by suggesting a child may grow out of a communication issue. Unfortunately, this often is not the case. Delaying treatment means children may miss a critical developmental window where they acquire a majority of their foundational speck and language skills.”
To expand the scope beyond childhood hearing loss, it is important to stress the benefits of treating hearing loss early in adults as well. Studies have found links between untreated hearing loss and a higher risk for falls, accidents, and developing dementia. Because hearing happens in the brain, the effects of hearing loss also affect cognitive abilities. People with untreated hearing loss may have issues with memory and concentration and may suffer in the workplace with productivity issues. And, of course, there is the difficulty of communication.
How Hearing Loss Affects Communication
In children and adults alike, hearing loss interferes with how we recognize and process speech, making communication difficult. For children and school-aged children, hearing loss could hinder their language and social development, which may have negative consequences on their academic performance and have long-last effects for their future. For adults, untreated hearing loss interferes with how we interact with our colleagues, friends, loved ones, and family members. Because the many different relationships in our lives depend on communication, untreated hearing loss could lead to misunderstandings and over time, isolation and withdrawal.
Adults with hearing loss have been found to have limited “life space” and mobility. In other words when you struggle to hear, you tend to avoid the activities you once loved and avoid branching out into new spaces where hearing challenges may be present. Coincidentally, social withdrawal and isolation among older adults is a leading contributing factor to the development of dementia.
Identifying the Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is an invisible medical condition, which means we may not always be aware of its presence. In fact, people wait an average of seven years from the time they first notice changes in their hearing abilities to the time they decide to seek treatment. Below are signs of hearing loss from ASHA:
- “muffled” hearing,
- asking for repetition,
- difficulty attending,
- difficulty understanding speech in noise,
- turning the volume up on the television/music,
- thinking others “mumble,”
- difficulty understanding speech on the telephone,
- difficulty understanding speech, particularly of women and children,
- rhyming mistakes-for example, hearing the high-pitched sound /t/ in the word tin as /f/ in the word fin,
- not participating in activities/isolating one’s self,
- speaking too loudly or too softly.
Among school-age children, signs of hearing loss include:
- poor academic performance,
- delayed language and speech production development,
- behavioral concerns,
- auditory processing problems.
Get Your Hearing Tested with Atlanta Hearing Doctor
In honor of Better Speech and Hearing Month, add hearing health to your list of self-care priorities. At Atlanta Hearing Doctor, we provide comprehensive hearing tests that will give you a good picture of your current hearing abilities. If a hearing loss is detected, our team will work with you to find the best solution to meet your hearing needs.