Hearing Loss: a Silent Epidemic Across Generations
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

Hearing Loss: a Silent Epidemic Across Generations

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States. In fact, over 48 million people have some degree of hearing loss.

What’s more concerning is the fact that the number of Americans with hearing loss is expected to increase by 30 million in the next four decades.

While we tend to think of hearing loss as natural part of aging, the truth is it’s not uncommon in children. In fact, 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 infants born in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears. An estimated 1 in 5 teens experience some degree of hearing loss, often a result of listening to loud music, particularly through ear buds at unsafe volumes.

More than an inconvenience, hearing loss has a major impact on an individual’s quality of life. From physical, emotional, and mental health to social skills, self-esteem and performance at work and school. Virtually every dimension of one’s life is impacted by even mild hearing loss.

Did you know? People with untreated hearing loss are twice as likely to be underemployed or unemployed as people with normal hearing.

 

As we age, the impact continues to build. Hearing loss is strongly associated with a dementia diagnosis. We know that treating hearing loss can slow cognitive decline in those with dementia as well. In addition, untreated hearing loss is associated with depression, anxiety, and a higher risk of falls in seniors.

The easiest way to turn the odds in your favor is to get regular hearing screenings for yourself and your family members. It’s also important to be on the lookout for signs of hearing loss.

Signs of hearing loss can show up as early as a few months old in children. Concerning signs in infants include:

  • lack of startle to loud noises
  • absence of reaction to voices
  • lack of attempts to locate the source of a sound
  • attention to some sounds but not others
  • interruption in babbling and making new sounds
  • delay in reaching developmental milestones

Signs of hearing loss in children may include the following:

  • delayed speech and/or language development
  • speech sound disorder
  • difficulty in following or understanding instructions
  • frequent requests for repetition
  • use of increased volume on the TV or other listening devices
  • difficulty effectively expressing themselves (e.g., in oral and/or written language)
  • frustration with communication breakdowns
  • feeling of exhaustion at the end of a school day
  • academic, behavioral, or social difficulties at school (e.g., concerns regarding literacy, pragmatic and social communication skills, and executive functioning)

Signs of hearing loss in teens may include:

  • TV or music regularly played at a high volume
  • Inability to hear high-pitched sounds
  • Speaking with a raised voice during a normal conversation or mumbling softly
  • An unexplained decline in academic success at school
  • Lack of participation in the classroom and a reluctance to get involved in group activities
  • Social withdrawal
  • Appearing to ignore your requests 
  • Repeatedly losing the thread of a conversation because they fail to capture what is being said
  • Complaining of a persistent high pitch ringing or buzzing sound 

Signs of hearing loss in adults may include:

  • Having to frequently ask people to repeat what they have said
  • Difficulty following conversations with more than one speaker
  • Difficulty listening in noisy environments
  • Complaining that people are mumbling or speaking too softly
  • Having trouble understanding people when you cannot see their faces
  • Keeping the television or radio at a volume louder than others prefer
  • Having difficulty understanding on the telephone
  • Not understanding all the dialogue at the movies or during live theater productions
  • A tendency to be more impatient, irritable, frustrated, or withdrawn than usual

If you can relate to or recognize one or more of these warning signs, a hearing test should be scheduled. Taking steps to address hearing loss will improve quality of life at any age and ensure that infants, children, and teens keep up with important developmental milestones.

 

Dr. Lisa J. Downing-Forget, MD, MPH practices Geriatric Primary Care at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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