Topic 3: How to keep your hearing sharp for longer
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One of the unavoidable facts of life is that as we age, our hearing declines.
The signs this is happening can be subtle; sounds and words that were once easy to recognise become a little harder to figure out, snippets of conversation are missed, the volume on the television creeps up and concentrating in loud areas gets more difficult.
The good news is that while preventing this kind of slow decline in hearing is impossible, you can slow the rate at which it occurs.
Australian Hearing audiologist Janette Thorburn says there are several ways you can protect your hearing and reduce the impact of hearing loss.
Test your hearing
Thorburn says hearing loss can start in your 40s or 50s so it’s never too early to benchmark your hearing ability.
“You need to be aware of your hearing before it starts to change and even shut down your life,” she says. “Knowing whether or not you have a hearing problem lets you arm yourself with information and options.”
If your hearing is diminishing but not having a detrimental effect on your life, you can take a hearing test online to find out how you match up against other people in your age group and learn if you need to take further action.
Protect yourself from loud sounds
It’s never too late to start protecting your hearing, which can slow down the hearing loss process.
Thorburn has some useful tips on hearing protection:
- Move away from loud speakers if you’re seated close to them
- Use ear plugs when you mow the lawn, use power tools or are at noisy events such as concerts or the motor racing
- Watch the volume coming from your headphones isn’t too high
- Control your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes – studies have found a link between diabetes and hearing loss
- Don’t ignore persistent tinnitus (ringing in your ears)
- Wear a helmet when cycling or playing contact sports – the delicate bones that protect the inner ear are easily damaged
- Take care when scuba diving – air pressure on the eardrum can damage hearing
- Check with your doctor – some chemicals and drugs can cause hearing loss if taken for long periods
Thorburn says there are also small things you can do every day to protect your inner ear.
“If sound is so loud you can’t hear a person speaking to you when you are at arms length, it’s too loud and could damage your hearing,” she explains. “Repeated very loud short bursts of sound are just as bad as long periods of softer but still loud sounds.”
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Australians on average wait seven years to get their hearing tested after first noticing changes, which Thorburn says is far too long.
Audiologists recommend getting tested as soon as you notice your hearing is fading, and continuing with follow-up tests every one to two years. While many people worry it will mean big changes such as wearing a hearing aid, this isn’t necessarily the case.
“As hearing loss creeps up gradually, people often just start avoiding situations that become harder,” Thorburn says. “If you find you have hearing loss starting, get information on your options before you start to change your life.”
She says untreated hearing loss can have a detrimental impact on other areas of our lives.
“This affects your body and your mind! If you don’t make the effort to go [and get a check-up], you also have less social interactions and become less connected.”
Once you’ve had your hearing tested, an audiologist will be able to advise on what steps to take next.
Have you had your hearing checked lately? Have you noticed any changes in your hearing over the years?