Avoiding it could put you at risk for depression, heart disease, dementia, even early DEATH
Many people avoid one crucial health test…
Even though it WON’T lead to any new prescriptions, aggressive treatments, or risky procedures…
But COULD help you stave off disease—including dementia—and improve mood…
Safeguarding against depression—and even an EARLY DEATH!
Better yet, this crucial test is painless and quick (it often takes 30 minutes or less). And it’s usually covered by insurance.
The problem is, most primary care physicians skip right over it—so a conversation about this important aspect of health is in YOUR hands.
Let’s get right to it…
Everyone over 65 NEEDS this health test
I’m talking about a hearing test.
I know… it sounds almost too simple.
But age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. In fact, 25 percent of men and women (ages 65 to 74) suffer from it.1 And by age 75, that figure skyrockets to a staggering 50 percent!
Plus, we now know hearing loss doesn’t just limit your ability to follow a conversation in a crowded restaurant or keep the TV volume at a reasonable level…
Untreated hearing loss actually INCREASES your risk of developing a host of other troubling health problems.
In a recent study published in the Journals of Gerontology, researchers looked closely at the effect of hearing loss in about 4,000 men and women ages 65 and older. At the study’s outset, about half the participants reported having some hearing loss—and the other half reported no hearing troubles.2
Over the next few years, the researchers followed the participants to see what other types of health problems they developed. And the results were stunning, to say the least…
The researchers found a link between initial hearing loss and an increased likelihood of becoming disabled in some way. Plus, for men in particular, initial hearing loss increased their likelihood of developing depression.
And that’s not all…
Researchers also found a “strong link” to dementia among both men and women. And that’s particularly disturbing, as dementia usually represents a permanent decline in cognitive ability, whereas hearing loss is so simple to address. (More on how to address hearing loss in a moment.)
Furthermore, this isn’t even the first study to uncover a “strong link” between these two conditions. Just consider this…
Previous studies show that people who have even mild hearing loss (unable to hear whispering) are TWICE as likely to develop dementia as their peers. Plus, the risk increases to THREE-FOLD for those with moderate hearing loss (unable to hear normal talking in a room) and FIVE-FOLD for severe impairment.
Scientists think hearing loss requires the brain to work much harder, forcing it to fill in the gaps. And this extra effort takes away from other parts of the brain that control memory, processing, attention span, and decision making.
We also know that hearing loss causes the brain to shrink quicker. Not to mention, people who can’t hear don’t engage as much in social conversations, which limits intellectual stimulation.
Sadly, that’s just a short glimpse into the health problems associated with hearing loss…
Because mild hearing loss also increases your risk of falling by 300 percent.. This makes sense, as our vestibular system, which controls balance, is found in the inner ear.
In addition, hearing loss plays a role in cardiovascular and metabolic health. In fact, six decades of research suggest that hearing loss may be an early sign of cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 cause of death here in the U.S. And some of that research shows that cardiovascular disease may even trigger and accelerate hearing loss by damaging the small blood vessels that lead to the inner ear.
What’s more, hearing loss may be an early sign of Type 2 diabetes, as high blood sugar damages the nerves and blood vessels in and around the inner ear.
Plus, hearing loss even impacts your lifespan! In a recent study, researchers looked at health data on more than 50,000 Norwegian men and women over a two-year period. Then, they looked at death rates using the Norwegian Cause of Death Registry.
It turns out, people younger than 75 with neglected hearing loss have higher rates of premature death from literally EVERY CAUSE.4
In another study, people with “just” mild hearing loss had a 21 percent higher risk of death compared to those with no hearing loss at all.5 And people with moderate-to-severe impairment had a whopping 39 percent higher risk of death.
Clearly, this area of health deserves a lot MORE attention that it typically gets. Now, let’s talk about some things you can do to correct and even PREVENT it from happening in the first place…
First steps in optimizing your hearing
First and foremost, even if you don’t think you have a problem, you need to get your hearing tested every three years after age 50. (And even prior to age 50, it’s recommended to get a hearing test every 10 years.)
That kind of routine screening will help you spot any EARLY declines in auditory function—giving you time to do something before it starts affecting your mobility, mood, brain, heart, metabolism, or even your lifespan!
Granted, most primary care physicians these days DON’T administer hearing tests. (Even though they should!) So, you may have to ask for a referral to an audiologist.
You can also perform a self-test at home with a partner to give you a general sense of your hearing ability. Here’s how it works…
Your partner will stand behind you to eliminate the possibility of lip reading. Then, they will speak a set of three random numbers at different volumes into one ear (while covering your other ear with their hand). The last number should be spoken in a whisper voice. Then, repeat the process with the other ear.
If you cannot repeat back any of the numbers, even the whispered number, you likely have some degree of hearing loss and should take steps to have it checked and corrected.
Here are some options for how to correct impaired hearing…
The help you need… when you need it
I realize that no one enjoys considering the possibility of relying on (or simply wearing) a hearing aid. After all, getting a hearing aid isn’t quite as sexy as getting a type of eye surgery (like cataracts) and no longer needing glasses.
But remember—hearing aids not only restore your capacity to hear, they can also improve your brain function and working memory.
Plus, one study from the American Academy of Audiology showed that using hearing aids regularly provided more independence and improved social life outside the home. Users also had better relations within their family.
Nowadays, you have many different options of hearing aid styles to choose from—ranging from prescription hearing aids that cost thousands of dollars to personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), which you can buy online without a prescription for a few hundred dollars. (These PSAPs may be a reasonable choice if you only suffer from mild hearing loss.)
Here are some other tips to help you take in all the auditory information around you in your daily life:
- Look at the person speaking to you. We all reads lips more than we think, and facial expressions and body language can provide helpful cues as to what’s going on.
- Find the best location for listening. When speaking with others, sit or stand directly across from the speaker. This will allow you to hear better and keep you more engaged in the conversation.
- Speak up! I know it’s hard to admit when you’re having trouble hearing. But the fact is, some voices fall in a range that’s harder to hear. For example, someone with high-frequency hearing loss may have more trouble hearing women and children’s voices.
So if you have difficulty hearing someone, don’t just play it off. That’s a slippery slope that ends up disengaging you from the conversation and people around you. Instead, politely ask them to repeat what they said a bit more loudly. You can even be frank and let them know you’re having trouble hearing them.
- Dine wisely. When you’re planning a dinner with friends, choose a restaurant that you know has good acoustics and intimate seating, where you can sit close to your guest. Avoid restaurants with high ceilings and hard flooring, which make it harder for anyone to hear. You may also want to avoid the rush. (When it’s more crowded, you have to contend with background noise.) Also, keep your guest list small so you can better follow the conversation.
Before we wrap up, let’s talk a bit about how to prevent hearing loss in the first place…
An ounce of prevention goes a long way
Given the stakes we’ve just discussed, it’s vitally important to protect your ears and your hearing as you age. Here are some tips for keeping your hearing sharp well into your 80s, 90s, and beyond:
- Avoid noisy environments, such as concerts. If you can’t avoid a situation where you know there will be loud noises, wear ear plugs.
- Keep the volume on TV, radio, or headphones at reasonable levels. Experts say keeping sound levels between 60 and 85 decibels is reasonable. To determine the decibel level, there are smartphone apps that can detect the level—or you can search for a physical decibel meter on Amazon.
- Make sure you regularly clean your ears and remove ear wax. But don’t reach for cotton swabs… opt for a warm washcloth instead. If your ears feel really waxy, bring it up to your doctor (or pharmacist)—they can help point you toward a wax removal kit.
- Exercise regularly. Research shows it can make a big difference!6
- Tell your doctor about any changes in hearing.
- Get your hearing tested regularly. As discussed, get your hearing checked at least once every three years.
As for myself, I even wear earplugs every night—I think it helps keep my hearing pitch perfect in addition to allowing me to achieve good, quality sleep!
In the end, no one wants to admit that their hearing isn’t what it used to be. But hearing is an important part of our five senses. Plus, it affects health and longevity. So, as always, an ounce of prevention goes a very long way!
SIDEBARD: Surprising hearing loss culprits
Besides sustained exposure to loud noises and music (both live and recorded), there are a surprising number of other hearing loss causes as you get older, including:
- Buildup of earwax3
- Brain injury
- Genetics (a family history)
- Certain medications
- Shooting guns or other weapons
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Sustained, daily occupational exposure to even mild noises (such as dentists and hygienists)
- Mowing the lawn or using power tools
- “Older adults.” Hearing Health Foundation, accessed 8/6/23. (hearinghealthfoundation.org/older-adults)
- “Death, Depression, Disability, and Dementia Associated With Self-reported Hearing Problems: A 25-Year Study.” The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, 2018; 73(10): 1383–1389. doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glx250
- “Is there a connection between hearing loss and dementia?” Medical News Today, 9/13/22. (medicalnewstoday.com/articles/hearing-loss-and-dementia#risk-factors-for-hearing-loss)
- “Hearing loss, family status and mortality – Findings from the HUNT study, Norway.” Soc Sci Med. 2019 Jan;220:219-225. doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.11.022.
- “Does hearing loss boost death risk?” Harvard Health Publishing, 11/19/15. (health.harvard.edu/hearing/news-briefs-does-hearing-loss-boost-death-risk)
- “Analysis of Hearing Loss and Physical Activity Among US Adults Aged 60-69 Years.” JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(4):e215484. doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.548