Don't Let Age Steal Your Hearing

It's a common sign of aging, so most of us just accept it as part of the normal process...

But hearing loss doesn't just mean you need to turn up the volume on the TV.

Several studies have found that hearing loss leads to three key outcomes:

  • Forces your brain to work harder
  • Changes your brain structure and function
  • Decreases social engagement

A functional MRI study from Ohio State University demonstrated that folks with mild hearing loss had greater brain activity. Their brains had to work harder to hear and make sense of speech.

The researchers believe this overworking of the brain contributes to dementia... You're putting too much stress on a part of the brain not designed to work with hearing. It's different from brain-training exercises that target specific parts of the brain to prevent decline.

More and more people are facing a future with hearing loss.

A recent study from the University of South Carolina estimates that more than 1 billion young people around the world are at risk for future hearing loss because of their current listening habits.

Loud movies, cellphones, and concerts can cause damage to the ears that compounds over a lifetime and makes folks more vulnerable to age-related hearing loss. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 1 in 3 U.S. seniors have hearing loss.

But there are steps you can take to protect your hearing...

1. Use headphones carefully. The National Health Service of the U.K. recommends staying below 60% of the maximum volume on headphones. In fact, a good solution if you need to tune out surrounding noise is to get some noise-canceling headphones. I love how they let me listen at lower volumes even when background noise is high. And be sure to not use headphones for a long period – take a five-minute break every hour.

2. Use earplugs. Noise-canceling headphones are great for routine noise. Sometimes, though, you need something heavy-duty. Anytime you're around extremely loud equipment or environments, be sure to wear ear protection. That includes things like using a chainsaw, mowing the lawn, or going to a concert. Do what I do and always carry earplugs. I put them in while flying on really loud planes or driving my tractors. I also use a monitor and alert on my smartwatch and phone that tell me when I'm in a loud area for too long.

3. Keep your ears clean. Impacted wax is the simplest reason for hearing trouble. If you want to clean your ears, use a damp cloth and maybe a few drops of baby oil to try and break it up. Never shove anything in your ear, including cotton swabs. At best, they'll just push the wax further into your ear canal. At worst, they can puncture your eardrum. If you can't break it up safely, see a specialist called an otolaryngologist.

4. Get your hearing tested. If you've never had a hearing test, it's a good idea to get a baseline test done and recheck as needed. Be sure to ask about insurance coverage, as some plans will offer coverage for an evaluation. However, few insurance plans will cover much for hearing aids. And keep in mind that hearing evaluations held at stores that sell hearing aids often will try to push you to purchase one.

For a more affordable and impartial option, try a phone test to see if you need to go in for a full test. The National Hearing Test is a simple screening test you can take in the privacy of your own home. You register online, pay $8, and receive a code to use. Then you get on the phone (ideally a landline), call the number, and punch in your code.

It only takes about 10 minutes and evaluates both ears. The key is to follow up with a doctor within a year if you show signs of any impairment.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
September 14, 2023