Exploring the Impact of Hearing Loss on Quality of Life

The Department of Labor is seeking feedback from people with hearing loss and their experience accessing employment services through American. To this end, the Hearing Loss Association in Los Angeles, CA held its first in-person support meeting on HOPE (Hearing Other People's Experiences). This event provided a platform for participants to share their experiences with hearing loss, its challenges, and to receive words of encouragement and support from others. It was a rewarding experience for all who attended.

The attendees were so inspired that they are already making plans for the next HOPE meeting. During the first meeting, they had an interesting and informative conversation with audiologist Jeff Grama, M. A., who has 48 years of experience. Jeff provided valuable information on the latest developments in hearing aids, his personal observations on over-the-counter hearing aids, and answered many questions.

Sandy Blake, a member of the chapter, also participated in Here, My Voice. If you use cochlear implants or hearing aids and are interested in receiving personalized voice classes with a professional vocal artist, mark your calendar for the afternoon of Sunday, March 26th. Invite your family and friends and spread the word about this event. After confirming your attendance, more information will be emailed to you.

Additionally, on Sunday, June 11th there will be a Long Beach Walk4Hearing. Research studies have been conducted to examine changes in the prevalence of hearing loss over time in the United States. The evidence from these analyses suggests that some cases of hearing loss can be prevented since genetic changes accumulate slowly. Modifiable exposures or risk factors are likely responsible for rapid changes in the risk of developing chronic diseases.

Data from the NHANES from 1971 to 1973 and the NHANES from 1999 to 2004 indicate that the prevalence of hearing loss (average of pure tones of 1, 2, 3, 4 kHz) decreased by 4.8 percent between these two time periods after adjusting for age, sex and race (Cheng et al.). It is important to note that two people with the same degree of hearing loss as measured by audiometry may have very different hearing difficulties. Tertiary prevention methods are available to help people manage their hearing loss and reduce its impact on their quality of life (see chapters 3, 4 and 5). While some hearing loss may be temporary or treated with medical or surgical methods, most hearing loss in adults is permanent or slowly progressing.

The definitions of cases of hearing loss vary slightly depending on the frequencies included in the average of pure tones. The strongest evidence would come from randomized controlled trials; however, this study design has been used infrequently in hearing research. The burden on the spouse may be limited to families where the person with hearing loss has difficulty communicating or is not satisfied with their hearing function. Prolonged exposure to loud and excessive noise may cause temporary increases in thresholds or “temporary threshold changes” (the threshold is the lowest sound that can be heard) and may or may not cause permanent changes in hearing depending on the noise level and duration of exposure.

Cross-sectional studies have examined the association between hearing loss and falls, impaired physical functioning, and hospitalization; however, longitudinal population-based studies are lacking. Participants who developed hearing loss during 10 years of follow-up had greater decreases in physical composite scores than those who maintained normal hearing; however, there were no differences in mental composite scores (Gopinath et al.). The American Academy of Pediatrics offers information and resources on screening for hearing in newborns and hearing loss in infants and young children including articles, videos, fact sheets and training materials. For example, older adults with profound hearing loss may be candidates for cochlear implants; however, this surgery would not be appropriate for people with mild hearing loss.

Most participants had only mild hearing loss; baseline volumes were similar between participants with and without hearing loss. The study controlled for partner's age, gender, financial problems, number of chronic illnesses and hearing loss. Slow gradual changes can also cause adults to not recognize deterioration of their hearing and delay seeking help. Cross-sectional epidemiological studies that measure sensitivity of auditory system only at a given time rarely distinguish onset pattern or subtype of hearing loss.

The impact that hearing loss has on quality of life is often overlooked but can be significant if left untreated or unmanaged properly. Research studies have shown that people with untreated hearing loss can experience a decrease in communication skills as well as physical functioning which can lead to an overall decrease in quality of life. Tertiary prevention methods such as cochlear implants or personalized voice classes can help people manage their hearing loss and reduce its impact on their quality of life while also helping them maintain physical functioning and communication skills.

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