Preparing for the future is an important part of life. Whether you’re putting money into a retirement plan or finding the perfect home for aging in place, you’re looking for ways to make life a little more comfortable for your future older self. Understanding and protecting your sense of hearing is a great way to do just that! Here are some tips for slowing down age-related hearing loss and to help you preserve your hearing for years to come.
What Can Cause Hearing Loss?
To begin with, it’s important to understand that hearing loss is a natural phenomenon. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one in eight people over age 12 has hearing loss in both ears. That statistic increases to one in three people 65 and older and half of those over 75.
It’s clear that hearing loss becomes more common the older we get, but what causes it? The answer isn’t so simple! Many different factors can lead to hearing loss, including your genetics, family history, and health. Hearing loss can also be caused by certain medications, diseases, and other conditions. Of course, loud noise can damage your hearing, too. That includes sounds from loud work environments, household chores, and hobbies like shooting, music, or woodworking.
Some of these factors are easily circumvented. For example, hearing protection can mitigate damage from loud live music or machinery. Others are not so easy to get around: your genetics, for instance. But there are always some steps you can take to protect and preserve your sense of hearing.
3 Tips for Slowing Down Age-Related Hearing Loss
Wear Proper Protection
One of the simplest and most effective ways to protect your hearing is by avoiding loud, damaging sound. Any sound over 85 decibels (abbreviated as db) can harm your hearing. Hearing damage isn’t strictly the same thing as age-related hearing loss, but many commonplace sounds can cause harm that builds up over time.
Work in a loud environment like a manufacturing plant or a construction site can be harmful to your ears. According to the CDC, there are workers at risk for hearing loss in every industry sector! Check the sound in your workplace and, if possible, take steps to reduce your exposure to harmful noise. Some common chemicals can contribute to hearing loss, as well, but less-toxic ones may be available.
Even your commute can be harmful! Over time, noisy train rides or traffic jams can have an adverse effect on your hearing. Housework can be just as bad: vacuums, kitchen appliances, and outdoor equipment like lawnmowers can all meet or exceed 85 db. Your favorite free-time activities may not be hearing-safe, either. Shooting, listening to live music, and many other hobbies come with noise hazards, too.
Fortunately, protecting yourself from these hazards can be as easy as wearing protective devices. With a little forethought, you can protect your hearing at work, on your commute, and in your free time with headphones or earplugs. The ones available at most hardware stores or pharmacies can reduce noise by 33 db or more.
Live a Healthy Lifestyle
This is good advice for anyone, albeit a little vague. But managing and improving certain aspects of your health can help you slow down age-related hearing loss. Your ears are intricate organs made up of tiny parts. That means they’re sensitive to many different changes or imbalances in your body.
A high BMI may be one such imbalance. Hearing loss can be a symptom of obesity, as lower oxygen levels in your blood impairs the delicate functions of your ears. Exercising and lowering your BMI to a healthy level can both improve your blood oxygen levels, which in turn helps preserve your hearing.
As it turns out, heart health is hearing health, too! A nutritious diet and plenty of exercise are good for your body in general but they can specifically help your heart, which in turn keeps more oxygen flowing to your ears. They can also help prevent diabetes. High and low blood sugars associated with diabetes can both damage your hearing; in fact, hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes.
Seek Treatment Early
A hearing evaluation can’t cure or stop your hearing loss, but it’s a good first step in improving your quality of life and keeping your hearing loss from getting worse.
If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing hearing loss, don’t wait until it becomes severe to seek treatment. You’ll get better results if you make an appointment with your audiologist at the first sign of hearing loss. Hearing aids and other treatments won’t bring back your natural sense of hearing, but they can help protect you from further damage and deterioration. Here’s why:
Without hearing aids, you may compensate for hearing loss by simply turning up the volume or asking others to speak up. But all that does is increase the amount of loud sounds going into your ears – and as we just mentioned, loud noises are dangerous for your hearing! While those sounds may cause further damage, there will always be sounds that you simply can’t turn up. Your brain simply has to do without those. And without as much sound to process, your brain begins to lose the ability to interpret the sounds that do come in. In essence, hearing loss isn’t just in your ears. It actually changes your brain!
Hearing aids help your ears make the most of the abilities they have left. They increase the amount of sound coming into your brain, keeping its auditory processing abilities sharp. An audiologist can help you determine the right hearing aids and treatment plan for you, but they can also identify conditions like cognitive decline or diseases that are impacting your hearing and refer you to the correct specialist for treatment. Growths, infections, and even simply too much wax are all conditions that can get worse if left untreated.
There Isn’t Always an Answer
Remember, hearing loss is natural. Millions of people around the globe experience it and have throughout history. While it’s important to do what you can to prevent it, it’s equally important to understand your level of risk and what you can expect as you age.
Your genetic makeup and family history play a role in whether you experience hearing loss and at what level. Take a look back through your family tree and check whether your parents, grandparents, or any other family members or ancestors have or had a hearing loss.
The role genetics plays in hearing loss is still being studied, and researchers are looking at ways it could be slowed or halted on this level. A new study from the University of Michigan has shown that in mice, cells in the ear began to lose a certain gene as they aged. The lack of this gene caused synapses involved in hearing to break down. Through gene editing, scientists were able to raise the level of that gene and help the aging mice retain synapses and their sense of hearing.
Take Steps to Protect Your Hearing
Hearing loss is no simple matter: there is no single cause for it nor a single foolproof way to prevent it. But there are always things you can do to protect the hearing you have left, no matter how mild or severe your experience of hearing loss. Just like a retirement fund or a home that’s suited to the challenges of aging, the best time to start thinking about treatment for hearing loss is before you’re in dire need of it. Using these tips, start taking steps toward slowing down age-related hearing loss and keep hearing better, longer.