Hearing Loss: What is it and what happens when you learn you have it?

June 14, 2018 15

We used to believe hearing loss was a normal part of the aging process. Today we know hearing actually happens in the brain and our ears function more like funnels for sound. So, in simple and understandable terms, sounds around us are detected by our outer ear, the funnel.  Sound waves then travel from the outer ear, through to the middle ear. The ear drum then takes these sounds waves, amplifies them and turns them into vibrations. As the trickle effect continues, the vibrations travel to the inner ear. Within the inner ear there are tiny inner ear hair cells. These cells translate the vibrations into neural signals, which are then sent to the brain. The brain then interprets the neural signals it recognizes and we understand what we are hearing.

So, consequently, what happens when we can no longer recognize the neural signals our ears are sending to our brains? When the inner ear translates vibrations into neural signals, the signals have to travel through pathways in the brain made by years of use. As a result, this is how we understand sounds instantly – a dog bark, the leaves rustling, a friend’s voice. Over the years, many of us lose bits and pieces of our hearing capabilities. This typically happens slowly and over time. In many cases, the person with the hearing loss is the last person to know he/she has a hearing loss. So, as we begin to miss sounds, our brain slowly forgets the sound because it does not “hear” it anymore.

Hearing loss interferes with our ability to pick up environmental sounds clearly and then figure out the difference between speech noises and background noise, and recognize speech in general. The longer we wait to seek help for hearing loss, the more challenging it becomes for the person with hearing loss to rebuild speech and hearing capabilities. Hearing Aids can only work with the hearing you have left.

Untreated Hearing Loss

According to The Hearing Loss Association of America, “people wait an average of seven years from the time they first experience changes in their hearing to the time they decide to seek treatment.” Seven years is a long time for your brain to go without hearing certain sounds. Because hearing loss occurs gradually over time, the majority of people instinctively change their behaviors to accommodate their new hearing challenges. For example, when a person with hearing loss watches TV, you may notice the volume has significantly increased over time. Or telephone conversations may occur less often or involve loud speech when they do.  You may even find yourself asking people to repeat themselves or you may misunderstand the things people say.

Untreated hearing loss has been linked to an increased risk for dementia, depression, stress, and anxiety.

According to a recent study from Johns Hopkins University, “hearing loss has the potential to increase one’s risk for developing dementia. Because hearing takes place in the brain, untreated hearing loss places a heavier cognitive load on the brain. This extra burden to sort out sounds and make sense of unclear sound signals could be taxing on the brain and take away from other processes. Additionally, the social withdrawal that comes from untreated hearing loss contributes to a risk for dementia.”

Treating Hearing Loss

Did you know hearing loss is the third most common medical condition in the US, behind only arthritis and heart disease? In fact, adults with hearing loss have shown to develop significant impairment in their cognitive abilities 3.2 years sooner than those without hearing loss. People with only mild untreated hearing loss have shown to be two times more likely to develop dementia. With moderate untreated hearing loss that number is three times more likely, and with severe untreated hearing loss you jump to five times more likely to develop dementia.

We’ve hear all the reasons for not seeking hearing help before: “hearing aids are ugly,” “they don’t work,” “they are bulky” and the most famous, “I feel old wearing hearing aids!” If you feel old wearing hearing aids, imagine how others feel when they speak with you without hearing aids on. In the end, this is your brain function. It’s the only brain you’ll have and we want you to be able to use it.

Leaving hearing loss untreated could has been shown to significantly impact the quality of one’s life, and the lives of those around you. Even more, the hearing aids available today are not your grandparent’s hearing aids from decades past! With wireless connectivity, Bluetooth capabilities and nearly invisible designs, today’s hearing aids work quickly and intelligently, fitting into your life seamlessly and affordably!

There’s no reason to live with untreated hearing loss. To schedule a FREE hearing test and FREE Audiological Consultation, contact us today at Physicians Hearing Solutions (401) 921-0181 or www.PHSDOCS.com.



  • Sarah Smith

    January 8, 2019 at 11:26 pm

    I didn’t realize that over 30% of people over 60 have hearing loss. This makes me wonder how many of them use hearing aids and how many just live with it. It would probably be best to have everyone’s hearing screened during health checks so that they could be referred to an audiologist for hearing aids.


    • laura

      January 9, 2019 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Sarah! Yes, this is very true. But, we, as a society, have just never put much importance on our hearing healthcare. It is very important to have a hearing screening and/or hearing test annually. If you live in RI, MA area, give us a call for a free hearing test (401) 921-0181. Thank you for your comment!


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