Better Hearing Institute

Want to Be Happier in 2017? Try a Hearing Test.

By the Better Hearing Institute

When you’re making your list of New Year’s resolutions and to-dos for 2017, be sure to put this one near the top: a hearing test.

That’s right. Research shows that when people address hearing loss it improves their quality of life in many ways.

And it’s no wonder. Ignoring a hearing loss and leaving it unaddressed can be exhausting, lead to isolation, and has been tied to an assortment of health conditions, including depression, diminished cognitive function, and an increased risk of falling.

But when people get a hearing test and use professionally fitted and individually programmed hearing aids—when recommended by a hearing care professional—most say they’re happy with the improvements they see in multiple areas of their lives.

Here are just a few potential perks of treating hearing loss that may surprise you:

  1. Your spirits may brighten. People with hearing loss who use hearing aids are less likely to feel down, depressed or hopeless, BHI research shows.

  2. Your relationships may benefit. Most people with hearing loss who use hearing aids say it has a positive effect on their relationships, according to a BHI survey. Research also finds that they’re more likely to have a strong social network.

  3. You may start to see life’s sunny side a little more. People with hearing loss who use hearing aids are more likely to be optimistic, feel engaged in life, and even get more pleasure in doing things, BHI research finds.

  4. Taking the reins on life might become easier. BHI research shows that people with hearing loss who use hearing aids are more likely to tackle problems actively. Not a bad New Year’s resolution in and of itself.

  5. It may lighten your cognitive load. Experts say that effortful listening due to unaddressed hearing loss is associated with increased stress and poorer performance on memory tests. If you don’t have to put so much effort into listening due to untreated hearing loss, more cognitive resources may be available for other things—like remembering what was said, or enjoying the conversation with friends.

So, go ahead. Make a hearing test one of the New Year’s resolutions you keep in 2017. 

So do it for your health. Do it for your happiness. Get a hearing test.

To take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing check to help determine if you need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing health care professional, visit www.BetterHearing.org

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute.

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Enjoy Summer Concert Season Right

By the Better Hearing Institute

With at least another month-and-a-half left of summer concert season, we thought it would be a good time to remind music lovers to pack the earplugs. It’s an easy and smart way to make sure you can enjoy those tunes for years to come.

Bringing earplugs to that next concert is more than a good idea, it should be a must, says the Better Hearing Institute (BHI). Millennials and teens especially should think twice about music volume because data show that hearing loss is on the rise in these age groups, which means they’re permanently losing some of their hearing at younger ages.

But take heart. Earplugs really can help. One study, carried out in conjunction with an outdoor music festival in Amsterdam last fall, found that festival-goers who wore earplugs were roughly five times less likely to have some temporary hearing loss than those who didn’t wear them. The earplug-users also were less likely to suffer from tinnitus afterwards.

Any sounds at or above 85 dBA for a prolonged period of time can be unsafe. The sounds at that Dutch music festival were at 100 decibels, pretty consistently, for 4-and-a-half hours. At that sound level, hearing damage can occur in just 15 minutes.

Luckily, earplugs are pretty easy to come by. Disposable earplugs, made of foam or silicone, usually can be found at local pharmacies. They’re practical because you can still hear music and conversation when they’re in your ears. But when they fit snuggly, they’re effective in adequately blocking out dangerously loud sounds.

The impact of noise on our ears

We hear sound when delicate hair cells in our inner ear vibrate, creating nerve signals that the brain understands as sound. But just as we can overload an electrical circuit, we also can overload these vibrating hair cells. Loud noise damages these delicate hair cells, resulting in sensorineural hearing loss and often tinnitus (ringing in the ears). The cells that are the first to be damaged or die are those that vibrate most quickly—those that allow us to hear higher-frequency sounds clearly.

Warning signs of too much noise

If you have to shout over the noise to be heard by someone within arm’s length, the noise is probably in the dangerous range. Here are the warning signs:

  • You have pain in your ears after leaving a noisy area.

  • You hear ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in your ears immediately after exposure to noise.

  • You suddenly have difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise; you can hear people talking but can’t understand them.

Repeated exposure to loud noise, over an extended period of time, presents serious risks to hearing health.

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute on July 19, 2016.

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World Heart Day

By the Better Hearing Institute

World Heart Day is today, September 29th. In response to a growing body of research showing a link between cardiovascular and hearing health, Hearing Health Foundation and Better Hearing Institute (BHI) are urging you to check your hearing.

Raymond Hull, PhD, professor of communication sciences and disorders in audiology and neurosciences at Wichita State University, recently completed research analyzing 84 years of work from scientists worldwide on the connection between cardiovascular health and the ability to hear and understand what others are saying. Hull’s work, which reviewed 70 scientific studies, confirmed a direct link.
 
According to Hull, “Our entire auditory system, especially the blood vessels of the inner ear, needs an oxygen-rich nutrient supply. If it doesn't get it due to cardiovascular health problems, then hearing can be affected."  
 
While there are many possible causes of hearing loss, cardiovascular disease appears to exaggerate the impact of those causes and intensify the degree of hearing decline, says Hull. This compounded effect not only increases the difficulty a person experiences in perceiving what has been said, but also diminishes their ability to make sense of what they hear with speed and accuracy.

Could hearing loss be an early sign of cardiovascular disease?

Research is ongoing, but a number of findings suggest that keeping track of your hearing may help you monitor your cardiovascular health as well.

“The inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it is possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body,” according to David R. Friedland, MD, PhD, Professor and Vice-Chair of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

In Dr. Friedland’s own 2009 study, published in The Laryngoscope, he and fellow researchers found that audiogram pattern correlates strongly with cerebrovascular and peripheral arterial disease and may represent a screening test for those at risk. They even concluded that patients with low-frequency hearing loss should be regarded as at risk for cardiovascular events, and appropriate referrals should be considered.

More recently, a 2014-published study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison found that the risk of hearing impairment was significantly greater in people with underlying atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, than in those without vessel abnormalities, suggesting that hearing loss may be an early sign of cardiovascular disease in apparently healthy people, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. The study involved a large cohort of middle-aged participants and showed that hearing loss is common in people in their forties. 

3 Heart-Healthy Reasons to Get a Hearing Test

  1. Six decades of research points to heart-hearing health link: Specifically, the study authors concluded that the negative influence of impaired cardiovascular health on both the peripheral and central auditory system—and the potential positive influence of improved cardiovascular health on these same systems—have been found through a sizable body of research.

  2. The ear may be a window to the heart: Some experts find the evidence showing a link between cardiovascular and hearing health so compelling that they say the ear may be a window to the heart. They encourage collaboration between hearing care providers, cardiologists, and other healthcare professionals. Some even call on hearing care professionals to include cardiovascular health in patient case history and to measure their patients’ blood pressure.

  3. The same lifestyle behaviors that affect the heart impact hearing. A higher level of physical activity is associated with a lower risk of hearing loss in women. Another revealed that smokers and passive smokers are more likely to suffer hearing loss. And a third found that regular fish consumption and higher intake of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with a lower risk of hearing loss in women. Coincidence? Or does it all come back to blood flow to the inner ear? Research is ongoing.

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute on September 15, 2015.

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Getting a Hearing Test May Be Good for Your Memory

By the Better Hearing Institute

If you want to help your memory and cognitive performance, you may want to get a hearing test and treat hearing loss. In response to a growing body of research that shows a link between unaddressed hearing loss and cognitive function, the Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) and the Better Hearing Institute (BHI) are encouraging people to get their hearing checked by a healthcare professional in recognition of World Alzheimer’s Month in September.


According to Brandeis University Professor of Neuroscience, Dr. Arthur Wingfield, who has been studying cognitive aging and the relationship between memory and hearing acuity for many years, effortful listening due to unaddressed hearing loss is associated with increased stress and poorer performance on memory tests.
 
His research shows that even when people with unaddressed hearing loss perceive the words that are being spoken, their ability to remember the information suffers—likely because of the draw on their cognitive resources that might otherwise be used to store what has been heard in memory. This is especially true for the comprehension of quick, informationally complex speech that is part of everyday life.
 
“Even if you have just a mild hearing loss that is not being treated, cognitive load increases significantly,” Wingfield said. “You have to put in so much effort just to perceive and understand what is being said that you divert resources away from storing what you have heard into your memory.”
 
How hearing loss affects cognitive function
Our ears and auditory system bring sound to the brain. But we actually “hear” with our brain, not with our ears.
 
According to Wingfield, unaddressed hearing loss not only affects the listener’s ability to perceive the sound accurately, but it also affects higher-level cognitive function. Specifically, it interferes with the listener’s ability to accurately process the auditory information and make sense of it.
 
In one study, Wingfield and his co-investigators found that older adults with mild to moderate hearing loss performed poorer on cognitive tests of memory than those of the same age who had good hearing.
 
In another study, Wingfield and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis used MRI to look at the effect that hearing loss has on both brain activity and structure. The study found that people with poorer hearing had less gray matter in the auditory cortex, a region of the brain that is necessary to support speech comprehension.
 
Wingfield has suggested the possibility that the participant’s hearing loss had a causal role. He and his co-investigators hypothesize that when the sensory stimulation is reduced due to hearing loss, corresponding areas of the brain reorganize their activity as a result.
 
“The sharpness of an individual’s hearing has cascading consequences for various aspects of cognitive function,” said Wingfield. “We’re only just beginning to understand how far-reaching these consequences are.”
 
As people move through middle age and their later years, Wingfield suggested, it is reasonable for them to get their hearing tested annually. If there is a hearing loss, it is best to take it seriously and treat it.
 
Hearing loss and dementia

A number of studies have come to light over the last few years showing a link between hearing loss and dementia.  Specifically, a pair of studies out of Johns Hopkins found that hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults and that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing. 
 
A third Johns Hopkins study revealed a link between hearing loss and accelerated brain tissue loss. The researchers found that for older adults with hearing loss, brain tissue loss happens faster than it does for those with normal hearing.
 
Some experts believe that interventions, like hearing aids, could potentially delay or prevent dementia. Research is ongoing
 
Staying connected

A number of studies indicate that maintaining strong social connections and keeping mentally active as we age might lower the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association website.
 
Interestingly, BHI research shows that people with hearing difficulty who use hearing aids are more likely to have a strong support network of family and friends, feel engaged in life, and meet up with friends to socialize. They even say that using hearing aids has a positive effect on their relationships.

For more information about hearing health and finding a healthcare professional, please visit: http://hearinghealthfoundation.org/find-a-hearing-health-professional.

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute on September 8, 2015.

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6 Easy Tips for Protecting Your Hearing This Summer

By Laura Friedman

The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) and Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) are encouraging people of all ages to protect their hearing this summer so they can treasure the sounds of the season for a lifetime. Packing earplugs along with the sunscreen for summer outings is just one of six easy tips.


While many noisy recreational activities are part of summer fun, it’s extremely important to take precautions to ensure that these activities don’t harm our hearing.
 
Prolonged exposure to loud outdoor concerts, lawn mowers, power tools, motorized recreational vehicles, target shooting, sporting events and fireworks can potentially damage our ears. In fact, the single bang of a firecracker at close range can cause permanent hearing loss in an instant, making it forever more difficult to hear the quieter sounds of summer.
 
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults (12 to 35 year olds) are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues and the unsafe use of personal audio devices.
 
“Hearing is the sense that connects us to each other,” says William Hal Martin, Ph.D., Professor of Otolaryngology, National University of Singapore, Program Director MSc of Audiology, Center for Hearing, Speech & Balance, and Co-Director of Dangerous Decibels. “Exposure to high level sounds cannot only destroy our ability to hear, it can cause tinnitus—ringing in the ears.”
 
“People of all ages are at risk of hearing loss from high level sounds, but it easily can be prevented by simple steps,” Martin continues. “It is important to recognize when your ears are in danger and to safeguard them so you can enjoy listening to friends, music, and sounds you love for the rest of your life.”
 
How Noise Affects Our Hearing
 
We hear sound when delicate hair cells in our inner ear vibrate, creating nerve signals that the brain understands as sound. But just as we can overload an electrical circuit, we also can overload these vibrating hair cells. Loud noise damages these delicate hair cells, resulting in sensorineural hearing loss and often tinnitus (ringing in the ears). The cells that are the first to be damaged or die are those that vibrate most quickly—those that allow us to hear higher-frequency sounds clearly, like the sounds of birds singing and children speaking.
Sound volume is measured in decibels, with the softest sound a normal hearing human can hear measuring at 0 dBA. Any sounds above 85 dBA for 8 or more hours are considered unsafe. Most firecrackers produce sounds starting at 125 dB peak SPL, presenting the risk of irreversible ear damage.
 
Repeated exposure to loud noise, over an extended period of time, presents serious risks to hearing health as well. If you have to shout over the noise to be heard by someone within arm’s length, the noise is probably in the dangerous range. Here are the warning signs:

  • You have pain in your ears after leaving a noisy area.

  • You hear ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in your ears immediately after exposure to noise.

  • You suddenly have difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise; you can hear people talking but can’t understand them.

6 Easy Tips for Protecting Your Hearing This Summer

  1. Walk away and plug your ears. If a loud noise takes you by surprise, quickly plug your ears with your fingers and walk away. Increasing the distance between you and the source of the sound will help reduce the intensity (or decibels) at which the sound is reaching your ears.

  2. Use earplugs. When you know you’ll be around loud sounds, use earplugs. Disposable earplugs, made of foam or silicone, are often available at local pharmacies. They’re practical because you can still hear music and conversation when they’re in your ears. But when they fit snuggly, they’re effective in adequately blocking out dangerously loud sounds.

  3. Leave the fireworks to the professionals. Be smart when you celebrate 4thof July festivities. Leave the fireworks to the professionals. And when watching the show, stay a safe distance away—where you can enjoy the colors and lights but not expose yourself and your family to loud noises. To protect your hearing, make sure you’re wearing earplugs and that they’re securely in place before the show begins. Also be sure to keep them in for the entire show.

  4. Limit your time in noisy environments. Do all you can to limit the length of time you spend in a noisy environment. When you do participate in noisy activities, alternate them with periods of quiet. And remember to use ear protection.

  5. Turn it down. When listening to smartphones and other electronics, keep them at a low volume. Importantly, limit your use of headphones and ear buds. Remember, it’s not just the volume that matters. It’s also the duration of time spent listening.

  6. Visit your local hearing healthcare professional for custom-fitted ear protection and a hearing test. A hearing healthcare professional can provide a hearing test to determine your baseline hearing level and determine if you have any hearing loss that should be addressed. Hearing care professionals also can provide custom ear protection to ensure a proper fit.

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute on June 26, 2015. 

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Men's Health and Hearing Health are Linked

By Laura Friedman

Hearing health affects so many aspects of a man’s life that routine hearing tests should be part of a healthy lifestyle. Hearing Health Foundation and Better Hearing Institute (BHI) which are encouraging hearing tests during Men’s Health Month in June and Men’s Health Week (June 15-21). Addressing hearing loss can help men safeguard their wellbeing and quality of life. And new research shows that people with hearing loss who use hearing aids enjoy a better overall quality of life and are more likely to be optimistic, have a strong social network, tackle problems actively, and feel engaged in life. At the same time, an increasing number of studies are showing a link between hearing loss and other health conditions.

Men are more likely to suffer from hearing loss than women. But luckily, the vast majority of people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. In fact, most people who currently wear hearing aids say it not only helps their overall ability to communicate effectively in most situations, but it also has a positive effect on their relationships. Most hearing aid users in the workforce even say it has helped their performance on the job.

Other research shows that addressing hearing loss can help protect your earnings. One study showed that the use of hearing aids reduced the risk of income loss dramatically—by 90-100% for those with milder hearing loss, and from 65 -77% for those whose hearing loss was severe to moderate.

What’s more, people with hearing difficulty who use hearing aids get more pleasure in doing things and are even more likely to exercise and meet up with friends to socialize!

Men who want to maintain a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle should know that new technological advances have revolutionized hearing aids in recent years. Today’s hearing aids can automatically adjust to all kinds of sound environments and filter out noise. Many are virtually invisible, sitting discreetly and comfortably inside the ear canal. Some are even waterproof, and others are rechargeable. Best of all, many are wireless, so you can stream sound from smartphones, home entertainment systems and other electronics directly into your hearing aid(s) at volumes just right for you.

5 Men’s Health Motivators for Getting a Hearing Test:

  1. Your hearing may say something about your heart. Cardiovascular and hearing health are linked. Some experts say the inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it’s possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body.

  2. Hearing loss is about twice as common in people with diabetes. Studies show that people with diabetes are about twice as likely to have hearing loss. When broken down by age, one study showed that those 60 and younger are at greater risk.

  3. Addressing hearing loss may benefit cognitive function. Research shows a link between hearing loss and dementia, leading experts to believe that interventions, like hearing aids, could potentially delay or prevent dementia. Research is ongoing.

  4. Hearing loss is tied to sleep apnea. Research shows that sleep apnea is significantly associated with hearing loss at both high and low frequencies. Findings suggest that sleep apnea is a systemic disease and is associated with an increased risk of hearing loss, along with a number of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

  5. Hearing loss is tied to depression. Studies show that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages, but is most pronounced in 18 to 69 year olds. Research also shows that the use of hearing aids reduces depressive symptoms.

BHI and HHF are encouraging men of all ages to take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing check at BetterHearing.org to help determine if they need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional.

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute on June 3, 2015. 

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6 Facts Every Woman Should Know About Hearing Health

By Laura Friedman

National Women’s Health Week may only last a week (May 10-16, 2015), but women’s health is a year-round issue. A growing body of research shows an association between hearing loss, quality of life, and a number of common chronic diseases and health conditions.

In the United States today, as many as one-third of women in their 50s have some degree of hearing loss, along with nearly two-thirds of women in their 60s. The findings of a 2008 study also suggest that the prevalence of hearing loss among younger adults, specifically among those in their 20s and 30s, is increasing. Fortunately, for the vast majority of people with hearing loss, hearing aids can help.

For many years, experts have known the positive impact that addressing hearing loss has on quality of life. Research shows that many people with hearing loss who use hearing aids see an improvement in their ability to hear in many settings; and many see an improvement in their relationships at home and at work, in their social lives, and in their ability to communicate effectively in most situations. Many even say they feel better about themselves.

In honor of National Women’s Health Week, we are sharing 6 Facts Every Woman Should Know About Hearing Health from The Better Hearing Institute:

  1. Women with hearing loss are more likely to be depressed. Research shows that hearing loss is associated with depression among U.S. adults, but particularly among women.

  2. The ear may be a window to the heart. Cardiovascular and hearing health are linked. Some experts say the inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it’s possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, according to the American Heart Association.

  3. If you have diabetes, you’re about twice as likely to have hearing loss. What’s more, having diabetes may cause women to experience a greater degree of hearing loss as they age, especially if the diabetes is not well controlled with medication. About 11% of women in the United States are affected by diabetes.

  4. Many of the same lifestyle behaviors that affect the heart impact hearing. More evidence of the interconnectedness between cardiovascular and hearing health is found in three studies on modifiable behaviors: One found that a higher level of physical activity is associated with lower risk of hearing loss in women. Another revealed that smokers and passive smokers are more likely to suffer hearing loss. And a third found that regular fish consumption and higher intake of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with lower risk of hearing loss in women.

  5. Hearing loss in women is tied to common pain relievers. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are associated with an increased risk of hearing loss in women. The link is even stronger among those younger than 50.

  6. Addressing hearing loss may benefit cognitive function. Research shows a link between hearing loss and dementia, which leads experts to believe that interventions, like hearing aids, could potentially delay or prevent dementia. Research is ongoing.

HI and HHF are encouraging women of all ages to take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing check at BetterHearing.org to help determine if they need a comprehensive hearing test by a hearing healthcare professional.

The content for this blog post originated in a press release issued by The Better Hearing Institute on May 8, 2015. 

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