How a hearing test can help people with dementia

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An ear specialist is urging people to prepare for hearing loss by getting tested earlier than they might otherwise do.

HMT Sancta Maria consultant Simon Browning says that failing to address the issue can delay access to aids, prolonging hearing disability, and making it harder to accept a hearing aid later in life.

Hearing loss is also linked to a decline in mental ability such as memory, their attention to the world around them, even thinking things through and using language.

So, knowing that there is a problem with hearing and getting treated for it is really important.

Ear complaints, like tinnitus – the perception of noise inside the ear – and vertigo – a feeling that you or the environment is moving or spinning – can affect sleep, social lives and mental health.

Mr Browning treats patients for those and other conditions at his Swansea clinic, and is keen for people to take more care of their hearing in the same way that they do with their sight.

Keeping the mind active

People are living longer, so they are more likely to suffer hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia. And the link between the two is important.

Mr Browning said: “We all know of people who have become more isolated and lost interest in life because they have gone deaf. And they haven’t done anything about it.

“We see it quite often with the very elderly in the community. They sit in the corner, and don’t talk to anybody partly because they are struggling to hear. This is going to have a psychological isolating effect and it may well link with cognitive decline.

“Cognitive decline and dementia are closely linked but having decline does not guarantee that dementia will develop.

“Patients who suffer with early dementia, or any form of dementia really, need hearing stimulation. If you lose that stimulation, you are losing a form of integration with the world and it may promote further decline.

“I would recommend that anyone who has dementia should have a hearing assessment or at least they should be asked about their hearing. And if there is a hearing loss, a hearing aid should be provided. That is really important.

“It is not a cure for dementia, but it does help with communication and reduces isolation. These things keep the mind active, which is really important.”

Changing perceptions

One problem is people’s natural resistance to hearing aids, often prompted by pride. But they are doing themselves no favours. The older someone has a hearing aid, the longer it is likely to take them to get used to it.

“Older people, it’s a generalisation, but, by and large, they are a bit resistant to new things,” said Mr Browning. “It’s technology, it’s small, it’s fiddly, you have got to remember to put it in. It doesn’t seem natural and there are lots of reasons to push back on a hearing aid.

“However, the longer you put it off, the harder it gets. And that process doesn’t reverse, so we recommend that as soon as you start to notice any problem with your hearing, get it tested.

“Don’t leave it and think it will be okay for another five years because in five years time your ears and your brain will be different, and less able to adapt to a hearing aid.”

There is a stark contrast, believes Mr Browning, in attitudes towards sight and hearing issues.

“If your sight goes wrong everyone is very interested about it, and a lot happens very quickly. Hearing loss with age has a lower priority,” said Mr Browning.

“If your hearing drifts off, a fundamentally important sense, and you start to lose your hearing, no one is terribly excited. It happens quietly. You get around it.

“You use your other ear, or you lip read better. You find ways to adapt to it. And yet it is one of your fundamental senses. Hearing is not as important in the public’s mind as sight. People resent hearing aids, whereas they don’t resent glasses.”

So, when is the best time to get a hearing test?

“If you are heading into your 60s, it’s probably time to get a hearing test,” said Mr Browning. “It should be on your mind, but you don’t need to be paranoid about it either. Just use your ears as normal and don’t expose them to loud noise.”

If you are experiencing ear problems and you would like to see an ENT specialist, contact HMT Sancta Maria via the website or call 01792 479040.



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