By Bob Sterner —
People are mumbling more than ever, making it difficult to understand what they’re saying. The bigger problem, unfortunately, is that a growing number of people are losing the ability to hear as clearly as they age, regardless of whether others are speaking clearly or not. And the extent of hearing loss in the U.S. will grow sharply in the next 25 years.
Against this gloomy future, there is some good news. New treatments surface to restore and lessen the impact of hearing loss. Beyond this, there is a growing awareness of the problem because of Covid-19 containment measures. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that the need to wear masks during the pandemic limited the ability of the hearing impaired to subconsciously read lips, highlighting the extent of their problems and the need to address them proactively.
The problems, nonetheless, are significant. One-third of those between the ages of 65 and 75 deal with some loss of hearing. When people hit 75, half of them suffer from problems. Beyond this, men in their 50s are three times more likely to have issues than women, according to Healthyhearing.com.
Among former service members, hearing loss and tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, is the most common problems treated by the U.S. Veterans Administration.
The total number of Americans who suffer is staggering. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million Americans suffer some form of hearing loss, and this number may rise to more than 300 million in the next 25 years.
Problems experienced by those impacted include hearing mumbled or slurred words, difficulty hearing high or low pitches, finding some sounds to be louder or annoying, and a ringing in the ears called tinnitus, according to VeryWellHealth.com.
All of this is more than simply annoying. The Palm Coast Hearing Center estimates that hearing loss costs the global economy $750 billion annually. The emotional and physical impact on individuals may be huge, added VeryWellHealth. Dealing with hearing loss can lead to mood swings, depression, and anxiety and may even increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, it reported.
Loud noises are usually the initial culprit, like a single incident or exposure to repeated blasts over time. These sounds can damage tiny hairs in the inner ear and the auditory nerve. Issues, however, only acerbate with time as people age.
The trio of tiny bones in the ear, for example, can weaken over time, causing them to fracture, which prevents them from transmitting sounds properly. British researchers also found that long-term exposure to Western diets of pre-packaged foods, processed meat, sugary goods and high-fat products can bring about sudden hearing problems. Even the antibiotics and pain relievers used to combat Covid symptoms can bring about tinnitus as a side effect.
Diet can play a positive factor in the battle against hearing loss. The Hearing Health Foundation recommends that nutrients such as potassium found in bananas, potatoes and black beans can support healthy hearing. Embracing diets lower in fats and sugars, like in Japan, is another way to offset problems.
Hearing aids are also the front line of treatment. The technology behind these devices has advanced rapidly in recent years, making them more effective and accessible. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reported that about 30 million U.S. adults could benefit from using one. Unfortunately, the institute added that only one-third of those 70 and older use them because of cost, vanity or a lack of awareness.
The most obvious way to stem the time of growing hearing loss is to reduce exposure to loud noises. The World Health Organization has even gone on record to recommend new standards for noise exposure by setting a maximum average sound level of 100 decibels. It equates to the loudness of a hair dryer or power lawn mower. Admittedly, that isn’t always possible, especially in outside areas or indoor music venues in these environments that suggest monitoring sound levels, personal protection such as ear plugs and quiet zones where people can rest their ears.
Science is also looking to help undo the damage done. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, are working on a regenerative therapy that uses descendants of stem cells to re-grow damaged tiny inner-ear hair cells through exposure to loud sounds. MIT has even gone as far as to form a spinoff company, Frequency Therapeutics, to conduct trials on the therapy. Other universities and research institutions are trying similar tacks, all holding out the promise of helping people to listen up.