How old do I need to be for hearing aids? Is my hearing loss bad enough for hearing aids? Is it ok to wait? This, and questions like it are what we often hear from our patients. These are all valid questions and ones we will address with today’s blog.
Hearing Loss Can start at Any Age
Hearing loss can occur at any age. In Ontario, infants get screened for hearing loss when they are born. In elementary school, an audiologist usually comes to provide hearing screenings as well. Sources like WebMD recommend a hearing test again at 21 years of age for a baseline, and a hearing test every 10 years after that until the age of 50 if the person feels his or her hearing is normal throughout that time. After the age of 50, testing is recommended every 3 years. If hearing loss is present at any point, the person is a candidate for hearing aids to treat the hearing loss.
Do I have enough Hearing Loss for Hearing Aids?
If hearing loss is present, a person could be a candidate for hearing aids. Current hearing aid technology is capable of fitting almost any hearing loss. If you are noticing difficulties in the presence of background noise, even with a mild hearing loss, hearing aids could be helpful. The challenge with hearing loss is that the change is gradual, meaning at times it can be difficult for the person to know what they are missing. Many clinics offer hearing aid demos or a trial period. A demo may help someone with hearing loss understand all the sounds they are missing and provide a clear idea of how hearing aids might work in noise. Noisy situations are often the most challenging for those with hearing loss.
Early Intervention is Key!
When it comes to hearing aids, early intervention is important for many reasons. While our ears pick up sounds, it is the brain that processes the sound. The longer someone is deprived of auditory information, the more challenging it becomes for their brain to become accustomed to hearing the missing sounds again once they are re-introduced with hearing aids. If the regions of the brain that process sound are deprived from sound for too long of a time period, those regions of the brain will experience shrinkage over time. The saying ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’ holds true here.
The brain may no longer have a memory of what certain sounds are over time and bringing those sounds to the forefront again can also be overwhelming if a person waits too long to treat their hearing loss. A good example to explain this concept is to think about the sound of a clock ticking. If someone with normal hearing were to close their eyes and hear a clock tick, they would be familiar with the sound and would be able to identify it with no problem. If someone with hearing loss for 20 years finally decided to pursue hearing aids (which is not an uncommon scenario), it is possible that they will not even be able to identify what a ticking clock is initially due to the brain having not heard that exact sound in years. More specifically, the memory of that sound has faded and it will take time for the brain to adapt to hearing all the sounds again.
Manual dexterity is also something else that can deteriorate with age. People who become accustomed to inserting and cleaning hearing aids when they are younger, and while their dexterity is intact, will not have issues using hearing aids when they are older. As audiologists at The Hearing Room, we have seen experienced hearing aid users with arthritic hands insert hearing aids with no issues because they pursued them when they were younger. Early intervention is strongly encouraged when it comes to hearing aids and it can actually make the overall experience better as you age.