This is my annual PSA. Yes, I write something about this every year. No, I don't get tired of talking about it. Yes, I still believe that it's a very important conversation to have, at least once every year. Yes, I try to find either a new way of presenting the old message and/or new information to share. (That was in anticipation of the question you may be thinking while you read this)
If you've been reading my blog for at least a year then you kind of know what to expect. So here we go:
Not only are there a lot of people in the world with some degree of hearing loss, the number is increasing all of the time. In 1985 roughly 42 million people around the world, which is about 1% of the population, had moderate to profound hearing loss. By 2011, that number grew to 360 million (about 6.1% of the population). By 2018 it was 466 million and it is projected that by 2030 there will be 650 million. Even more shocking, by 2050, projections indicate that more than 900 million people around the globe will have significant hearing loss. Wow! That is just staggering.
Even more surprising is that the age of people indicating some degree of hearing loss is dropping. Growing up, I always associated hearing loss with extreme old age. (which is funny because I began losing my own hearing at age 12, I just didn't realize it) According to the NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) 14 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have some degree of hearing loss. Twenty years old! Wow!
Every May, in honour of Better Hearing Month, I have my annual hearing test. It's painless, most insurances cover it and some audiology offices even occasionally offer free screenings. This year my test revealed that, for now anyway, my hearing has plateaued. Nice! While my hearing isn't good, unaided, it is no worse right now. And that is exciting. No adjustments needed to be made to my hearing aids, I was good to go for another year. Yay!
This is just an aside. When I visit a new medical professionals office, I always make it a point to tell them that I am hearing impaired, that I wear hearing aids but that I will understand them best if they look at me while they are talking. Most of them do their best to comply which is nice. But I ALWAYS hear back in response, "My goodness, I had no idea that you have difficulty hearing. I would never have guessed". Which is flattering :) But it also points to part of the problem.
If you have a broken leg, people notice. The cast and the crutch are a giveaway immediately. Most nice people (and quite honestly, most people are nice) will automatically accommodate you without you having to ask. They do so with a smile. Your life is a little easier and they feel good about having helped. But hearing loss in essentially invisible. If it seems that you don't understand what is being said assumptions are made. A) you do not speak English B) you weren't paying attention C) you aren't interested or D) you are stupid. It almost never occurs to the other person that the reason you didn't understand is that you cannot hear properly.
It is important to educate the world around us. I have learned to speak up. To, very kindly, tell people what I need. Be honest. The more upfront I have learned to be about my own hearing loss, the more other people feel at ease telling me of their own hearing concerns whether it's their parent, their spouse, their sibling, their friend or themselves. I am not certain why, but it seems as though while it's perfectly acceptable to need to wear glasses or contact lenses or get Lasix surgery, somehow people are embarrassed to admit that they have difficulty hearing. Maybe they have problem only in certain environments. Perhaps it's only certain voices or just when watching television. But people, lots of people, are struggling with their hearing and then not doing anything about it. Heck, they won't even talk about it! What a terrible shame.
If you want to protect your hearing here are 12 tips from ASHA (American Speech Hearing Association):
1. Avoid loud noises
2. Keep your ears clean and dry - excessive moisture can lead to infections
3. Don't smoke. Smoking can more than double your risk as it impairs blood circulation and therefore oxygen which maintain healthy cells
4. Be cautious with medications. Some prescription medications can have side effects related to hearing loss
5. Be aware of excessive wax build up
6. Avoid putting cotton swabs or any other object in your ear canals
7. Take supplements and vitamins for better hearing health. Such as Vitamin B, Magnesium and Zinc
8. Protect your ears in cold weather and noisy environments, think ear muffs and noise cancelling headphones
9. See your regular General Practitioner regularly and be honest with them about any difficulties you may be having. Some other medical conditions, such as high blood pressure can also contribute to hearing loss
10. Get regular hearing screens from your local audiologist
11. Go for a walk in the woods (listen to the quiet for awhile)
12. Self-test. Have a friend or family member read to you then you repeat back to them what you heard, or thought you heard.
Ok I'm done with this year's lecture. And if only one person reads this and and says, "Yes, this is the year that I am actually going to call and make that appointment for a hearing test", then my mission was successful. But there is still a lot of work to be done so expect another lecture about your hearing health next May.
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.