For many seniors, it's hard to admit to experiencing the onset of age-related hearing loss. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, this condition is more common than most seniors realize, affecting nearly 25 percent of those ages 65 to 74, and almost half of the population that's older than this age group. What's more, a significant portion of those with hearing loss in the U.S. have never received treatment for the condition, which can lead to social isolation and depression and be a detriment to cognitive function.
In fact, a growing body of research has found that addressing hearing loss can help prevent the onset of dementia and other mental health disorders. While some hearing loss is natural with aging, there are a number of ways to protect your hearing ability on a daily basis. By mitigating exposure to quotidian loud noises, seniors can work to maintain their ability to hear into their golden years.
"Hearing loss can speed up the onset of cognitive decline."
According to a 2013 study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, those with hearing loss may experience cognitive decline 30 to 40 percent faster than those with normal hearing function. The team notes that this results in seniors with hearing loss facing significant cognitive impairment on average about 3.2 years earlier than their peers. The study consisted of nearly 2,000 men and women between the ages of 75 and 84, and all participants showed no signs of cognitive decline at the beginning of the study, which began in 2001.
"Our results show that hearing loss should not be considered an inconsequential part of aging, because it may come with some serious long-term consequences to healthy brain functioning," said Dr. Frank Lin, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a news release.
While researchers are still trying to quantify the concrete long-term benefits of wearing hearing aids, it is widely accepted that using these devices can greatly benefit independent senior living. However, the best way to ensure the longevity of your hearing is to avoid excessive noise exposure and wearing proper hearing protection when necessary.
AARP notes that hairdryers, lawn mowers, power tools, sirens, guns and various modes of transportation can emit unsafe noise levels that can contribute to hearing loss. Moreover, you may be exposed to dangerous decibel levels in normal day-to-day situations, such as driving by a construction site or using a snow blower to clear the driveway.
In some cases, exposure to loud noises is unexpected and unavoidable. However, it's important to wear earplugs and earmuffs as much as possible under noisy conditions. Before mowing the lawn, working with power tools or driving a noisy vehicle such as a snowmobile, make sure to use this equipment to reduce your exposure level to a safer volume. Also note that when used in tandem, earplugs and earmuffs reduce more noise than when used individually.
Finally, remember that headphones should not be listened to anywhere near the maximum volume. Many audiological experts recommend listening to headphones at 60 percent volume for no more than 60 minutes per day.