Only 30 percent of hearing loss is caused by aging alone

Many consider hearing loss a natural part of the aging process, but the reality is that only 30 per cent of hearing loss is caused by aging alone. Noise exposure, viral infections, and chronic health conditions such as diabetes are just some of the causes of hearing loss.

According to Statistics Canada, 20 per cent of adults have at least mild hearing loss in one ear and 70 per cent are unaware of their hearing problem.

Hearing loss often goes unnoticed and undiagnosed for several years due to its gradual decline. People often compensate by turning the television up, avoiding social events and complaining that everyone mumbles. People with hearing loss “bluff” their way through conversations by nodding their heads or monopolize conversations so they aren’t required to listen.

The presumption that family physicians will mention a patient’s hearing if they feel it is of concern likely contributes to the high percentage of those unaware of their hearing loss.

Since most with hearing impairments hear OK in quiet environments such as a doctor’s office, it can be almost impossible for a doctor to recognize the extent of someone’s hearing problem.

Lyndsay Bozec doing a hearing test
Susan English-Thompson

There is also a misconception that you need a doctor’s referral to have your hearing assessed in Nova Scotia. Living in a time of a “one issue per visit” health model, many patients feel forced to put their hearing concerns on the back burner while other ailments take precedent.

While audiologists recommend a cradle-to-grave hearing healthcare model, we continue to see patients in our clinics well into their 60s and 70s before having their first hearing assessment. Many often wait until family members become frustrated or their hearing loss becomes so severe that one-on-one conversations in quiet, have become difficult.

Once diagnosed with hearing loss, research shows that it takes an average of seven years for someone to treat their hearing loss. Factors contributing to this delay are vanity, denial and cost.

However, research also shows that delayed treatment often leads to decreased acceptance of hearing aids by the brain and an increased risk of dementia. As we age, not only does our brain lose its ability to process sound but it also loses its ability to learn new things; known as “plasticity”. People underestimate how involved the brain is during listening. We hear with our ears, but we listen with our brain. While there is still room for improvement, the good news is that we are seeing an increase in hearing health awareness overall. Undoubtedly, the improvement in hearing aid technology is partially responsible for this. Improved sound quality and integration with smart phones and other electronics – such as televisions – has allowed our patients to use their hearing aids seamlessly in almost all types of listening situations.

There also appears to be an increased awareness of the connection between hearing health and brain health. Patients are becoming less concerned with “looking old” and wanting to be proactive with their health at a younger age.

Lyndsay Bozec is a Registered Audiologist with Alderney and Sackville Hearing Centres. Her professional areas of interest include hearing loss comorbidities, amplification, and aural rehabilitation.

How often should your hearing be tested?

  • When you’re born (before you leave the hospital)
  • When you’re five years old (typically done during elementary school registration)
  • Every 5-10 years after that, until the age of 55
  • When you’re 55 or older, you should have your hearing tested at least every two years

To schedule a hearing test, please call Sackville Hearing Centre (902) 865-4455 or Alderney Hearing Centre at (902) 465-4334.

This article was published in The Chronicle Herald.