In the World Health Organization’s announcement of the 2021 observance of World Hearing Day, they state that “nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide — or 1 in 4 people — will be living with some degree of hearing loss by 2050.”
“Our ability to hear is precious. Untreated hearing loss can have a devastating impact on people’s ability to communicate, to study and to earn a living,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, in making the announcement.
“At least 700 million of these people will require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services unless action is taken.”
In most countries, ear and hearing care is still not integrated into national health systems, making accessing care services challenging and out of reach for many of those with ear diseases and hearing loss. It is stated that early intervention is key in treating and potentially reversing hearing loss. We, as a country, are not exempt from this problem.
For older Americans, hearing loss is listed as today’s third most prevalent chronic health condition. But it is far from just a problem of the elderly. According to the National Institutes of Health, 15% of adults over 18 report some trouble hearing. As a point of perspective, that’s nearly equal the population of the state of California — more than 37 million American adults. Reports hearing health research website Soundly, 1 in 5 teens are projected to experience some form of hearing loss. And it is a problem that can only be expected to get worse, as this rate is nearly 30% higher than it was 20 years ago. As noted in the report, “even a mild hearing loss can cause a child to miss as much as 50 percent of classroom discussion.”
According to statistics provided by Soundly, almost half of those aged 12-35 years could be exposed to unsafe levels of noise from their cellphones and other listening devices. And 40% in this age group could be exposed to “potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues.” And the musicians on stage? They are projected to be 400% more likely to suffer some form of hearing loss.
We are not only not listening to the warning cries on this serious and escalating problem. People young and old seem to be more than willing to ignore it, jeopardizing their gift of hearing as a result.
The NIH states that while nearly 80% of American hearing-loss cases can be treated with hearing aids, only 1 in 4 qualified individuals choose to use them. A mere 16% of U.S. adults ages 20-69 who have been told they could benefit from hearing aids have even tried them. In addition, statistics show that people with hearing loss wait an average of seven years before seeking help.
According to recent research by Johns Hopkins Medicine, the links between hearing and health are clear. While hearing loss is frustrating for those who have it, there is also a relationship with walking problems, falls and even dementia. In a study that tracked 639 adults for nearly 12 years, Johns Hopkins expert Frank Lin, director of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and his colleagues found that “mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Moderate loss tripled risk, and people with a severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia.”
“Hearing loss also contributes to social isolation. You may not want to be with people as much, and when you are you may not engage in conversation as much. These factors may contribute to dementia,” Lin added.
“My hearing’s not that bad,” you may have heard a colleague, friend or family member say. You may have even said it yourself. It is a myth and not to be believed, say the experts.
During the seven years on average before people seek help, communication with loved ones becomes more difficult, and isolation and health risks increase. “Our findings emphasized just how important it is to be proactive in addressing any hearing declines over time,” says Lin.
Like a lot of things in life, there is a breaking-in period to hearing aid use as you, your central auditory system and your brain adjust to life. Beyond this, there is no downside to using hearing aids, except maybe a social one that is self-imposed.
A post on hear.com reminds us, in today’s world, “hearing loss is an issue in almost every working environment in the USA. From kitchens to classrooms, when our hearing starts to fade, our jobs become harder, so take action if it happens to you, and sooner rather than later.” As pointed out in a ScienceDaily report, “people who have repeated exposure to loud noises, like military personnel, construction workers, and musicians, are most at risk for progressive hearing loss. But, it can happen to anyone over time (even concertgoers).”
As outlined in a University of Rochester Medical Center report, the most common cause of hearing loss is progressive “because hair cells — the primary cells to detect sound waves — cannot regenerate if damaged or lost.”
Researchers at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience are now getting closer to identifying the mechanisms that may promote a means of hair cell regeneration found in birds and fish but not found in mammals. The findings were recently published in Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience.
“This discovery has made it clear that regeneration is not only restricted to the early stages of development. We believe we can use these findings to drive regeneration in adults.” says Dorota Piekna-Przybylska, staff scientist in the White Lab and first author of the study. Let us hope Dr. Piekna-Przybylska is right.