About 48 million people in the U.S. have some degree of hearing loss, but many of them struggle with acknowledging it. “People are often embarrassed or ashamed about losing their hearing, because they see it as a sign that they're old, so they ignore it and pretend it isn't happening,” says Alison Grimes, director of audiology at UCLA Health in Los Angeles.
They also might be worried about the cost of hearing aids, or the way the technology looks or functions. As a result, the average time it takes to seek help is seven years, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. But untreated hearing loss can be dangerous, even deadly. Here are nine truths that will help you drop the denial — or encourage a loved one to — so you can get the help you need.
1. Getting a hearing aid is as natural as wearing reading glasses
Chances are you already own a pair or two of fashionable readers and don't feel embarrassed about wearing them. Presbyopia, the age-related loss of the eye's ability to focus on nearby objects, is the visual version of presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, Grimes says. Hearing aids may not yet count as a trendy accessory, but they're far more discreet than the big beige bananas of old — and plenty of glamorous people rely on them, including Halle Berry, Jodie Foster, Robert Redford and Rob Lowe. That's a club most of us wouldn't mind joining.
2. Even mild hearing loss changes your brain
"The ear sends information to the brain, so when hearing begins to diminish, the brain changes, too,” says Anu Sharma, a professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder. For instance, as hearing wanes, the visual and sensory processing parts of the brain start using parts of the auditory cortex to understand sounds, a shift that results in less stimulation — and, as a result, deterioration — of the auditory cortex over time, according to research by Sharma and her colleagues.