What Hearing Loss Research Tells Me About Me

Almost every day I read about a new hearing loss study, research or statistics. Most of them sound exciting and others are single-eyebrow-raising, such as surveys announcing how many of us actually have hearing loss. The stats for the overall population seem to fluctuate a great deal, from the often-quoted but urban myth of 10% to between 16-25%.koru
Why the big difference – are we perhaps a difficult group to count? Is there perhaps a shortage of counters? And why, when they do count, do they use such narrow population criteria, such as Chinese Factory Workers or Swedish Teachers or Seniors in Rural Kentucky, or Large Fishing Families in Newfoundland Outports, or Teenagers Whose Ears Ring After a Concert? And to be honest, we don’t always put up our hand to be counted. Even when asked on a census, we may not tell the truth (“Hmm, that’s a ‘no’. I’m not harda-hearing, just don’t hear the wife too well anymore, nothing important.”)

Some of the research project titles are beyond me, requiring a triple-PhD to understand what the researcher is saying. Take, for example, this study posted on The Journal@HHTM: An Investigation of the Relationship of ABR Wave V to Na-Pa of the MLR .  Now, I’m sure this is a fine study that will quicken the heartbeats of hearing researchers around the world. But, although I understand these medical studies have the potential to someday improve my hearing, I’ll wait for the results to be announced in plain English.

 

Mind you, there has been some interesting, understandable stuff coming out recently.

 

Study #1: People with hearing loss who don’t use hearing aids are more tired at night.   Surveys conducted of people with significant hearing loss in Italy, UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway and Japan showed that 50% of non-hearing aid-users said they often felt mentally exhausted in the evenings, as compared to 30% of those who use hearing aids. So, it’s clear that if you need a hearing aid and you use one, there’s a good chance you’ll be mentally fresh as a daisy come dinner time.

But, unfortunately, I fall in the 30% of hearing aid users – I often feel pooped at night. Is that because I’m Canadian? Would I do better hanging out in Germany? Or am I pooped because of something else – age, lack of sleep? Still, this is good stuff to know. My German friend with hearing  loss will be pleased to learn that after a long day of reading people’s lips, chances are she’ll still be raring to go!

 

Study #2: Stress makes exhausted women over-sensitive to sounds. According to a Swedish study, women suffering from stress-related exhaustion exhibit hypersensitivity to sounds when exposed to stress.  But this is where I start to get confused. I need more information. Would this sound sensitivity be all day or just in the evenings? Are these woman wearing anything in their ears?

 

Study #3: Red wine may protect against noise-induced hearing loss. A plant compound found in red grapes and red wine may guard against hearing loss and cognitive decline, according to a study published in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Fabulous! This is something I can understand. But I’m hoping that rosé, my personal favorite and which is kind of red and kind of white, may also offer some protection. If not, I’m switching to Shiraz, Merlot or some other horsey-sounding wine.

 

Study #4: High blood pressure can lead to hearing loss. A Mumbai study showed that people suffering from high blood pressure could also suffer from hearing loss as a result of their medical condition. However, if the hypertension is controlled with the right medication, additional loss of hearing can be prevented.

But guess what? According to another study reported by the American Heart Association, non-alcoholic red wine can reduce blood pressure, which in turn can help prevent hearing loss. So, if you take Studies # 3 and #4 together, it’s clear that we should drink red wine with alcohol and without. (I’d suggest the fake stuff for breakfast and the real stuff for dinner – which may have the added benefit of helping the stress-and-loud-noise issue of Study #2.)

 

Study #5: The chance of dementia is increased in people with hearing loss. A 2011 study from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that hearing loss may increase one’s chances of developing dementia. In the study, Dr. Frank Lin reported that for every 10 decibels of hearing lost, the extra likelihood of development jumped up by 20 percent.

This is not good news for me. I have a 75-dB loss, which means I have a 140% chance of developing dementia. (And if my math is wrong on this – please, let me know.) But here’s the thing – do I get brownie points for being a hearing aid user and having, as of this minute, converted to red wine?

 

Study #6: Stanford University has introduced the “Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss”. This is a positive research initiative that I’m going take at face value. They’re not saying maybe or that there’s a ‘27% chance of’. The title clearly states that these people are going to find a cure for hearing loss. And that’s why, for now, I’m not reading any further than the title.

 

So, let’s  sum up and look at what we’ve got here. Let’s say we have a woman, late-50’ish, severe-to-profound hearing loss who wears her hearing aids all the time, keeps the grey matter bubbling with activity, drinks fake wine for brekkie and a smooth cab-sauv for din-dins, checks her blood pressure regularly, and works hard to reduce stress in her life.

By adopting all these strategies, would her hearing loss go into reverse? Or would we simply have a healthy, physically fit and mentally agile woman who knows how to live successfully with hearing loss?

The latter? Oh damn.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

12 Comments

  1. Hey Gael…I think you forgot the study from J. Hopkins that says we tend to fall a lot. Maybe that’s related to the red wine! :) Great article, as always. I especially like the part about a ‘cure’. May not happen soon, but hey….just the fact this is being discussed is remarkable.

  2. Aren’t there any studies on the effects of noise? That’s what tires me out–I can hardly wait to get away from traffic and machinery. And I’m hearing that noise is a major cause of hearing loss.

  3. Gael – thanks for the update on all the research on hearing loss. To answer a couple of your questions, that research by Dr. Lin unfortunately found your chances of developing dementia were just as great whether you treat your hearing loss by donning hearing aids or not so you don’t get any brownie points for using hearing aids. You should get a gold star to paste on your forehead, though, for the HAs and, if you still have trouble hearing people while wearing them it could be you’re just a little tipsy from that red wine. Skoal !

  4. Gael – thanks for the update on all the research on hearing loss. To answer a couple of your questions, that research by Dr. Lin unfortunately found your chances of developing dementia were just as great whether you treat your hearing loss by donning hearing aids or not so you don’t get any brownie points for using hearing aids. You should get a gold star to paste on your forehead, though, for the HAs and, if you still have trouble hearing people while wearing them it could be you’re just a little tipsy from that red wine. Skoal !

    1. Ah true, Steve! BUT, don’t forget Study #1, which says that I could be less exhausted by wearing hearing aids, negating the need to drink (as much) red wine…ah, but then, my blood pressure may rise…..

  5. Gael, Thank you for mentioning the Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss and for your continued excellent posts on hearing loss!

    We at SICHL are working hard towards the goal of creating biological cures for hearing loss. If you readers are interested, we do try to provide accessible discussions of our recent scientific papers on our blog (hearinglosscure.stanford.edu/blog), and welcome questions and requests for further clarification.

    Kind Regards,
    Kate

  6. Hi Gael. I agree that some of these studies seem like a waste of time. We need more research into the effects of hearing loss compared to people with normal hearing to prove what those with hearing loss already know or believe: it results in more unemployment and underemployment; it produces stress and stress related conditions like high blood pressure; it causes fatigue which affects the quality of life; it affects relationships and the ability to make friends; it may even be considered a form of Alzheimer’s or dementia (I have seen this link made).
    This is not to say that people with hearing loss would be perfect but they suffer from considerable loss of potential because of their loss, which many are probably not even aware of. Hearing loss creeps up on people and may start, like me, when I was very young and never really understood it. An audiologist told me that he wanted to provide hearing examinations for children to identify hearing loss and was rejected. He was told it was a scheme to make money. Yet eye examinations are done routinely, which is something parents and teachers are more likely to clue into.
    My father had hearing loss and suffered from what was diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. He had this for about ten years before he died. When he did die, his mental faculties were still very much intact, even though he was supposed to have Alzheimer’s.
    The problem he had was that he couldn’t remember anything shot-term. I think this is partly because he had to concentrate so hard on what people were saying that he could not remember. After ten years with Alzeimer’s, he still understood everything people said to him and his personality was still very much intact. I think his hearing loss was very much a part of his health problem.
    As always, thanks for your article.

    Reid Barry

    1. Reid – thank YOU for the passionate and on-the-mark reply. I do agree that these studies, some of which seem frivolous when regarded singly, will have impact down the road, when taken in aggregate of all emerging hearing research.

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