Category: Research

4 Reasons to Hear Better in 2012

SoundVoids™ can cause unnecessary frustration in visiting with your loved ones.

It’s coming.  2011 is almost over and 2012 is on its way.  As the new year approaches, it’s a great time to begin the journey toward better hearing.  Here are four great reasons to start today:

  1. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. A common phenomenon, especially among those who let their hearing loss go untreated, is called phonemic regression. Simply put, phonemic regression is when we find a loss of speech discrimination that isn’t proportional to the person’s pure tone thresholds. The most common symptom of this is being able to hear that someone is speaking but simply not being able to understand what is being said, something we call a Sound Void. This is a very frustrating situation, as the problem is not a simple matter of volume. In some cases, phonemic regression could have been prevented simply by wearing hearing aids earlier.
  2. Keep your brain sharp! In February, John’s Hopkins University released a startling study that linked untreated hearing loss to the development of dementia in elderly populations. While the exact nature of this link remains a bit of a mystery, it is well known that social isolation contributes to dementia.  One of the biggest contributing factors to this kind of isolation is the inability to hear well enough to enjoy getting out and being active.
  3. New technology provides superior sound quality and satisfaction.  The king of hearing aids is no longer that big ear plug that your father or grandfather wore (or refused to wear, as the case may have been).  There are many styles available for nearly every budget that are designed to treat nearly every type of hearing loss.  The possibilities are all but endless, and so is our ability to help people with many different kinds of hearing loss.
  4. Better hearing has never been easier!  Our ultimate goal as hearing professionals is to reintroduce you to a world of sounds that you haven’t been hearing.  Our Service Excellence Guarantee provides you with peace of mind knowing that we’ll have your back and make sure that you get the full value of your investment in better hearing.  We offer a 75-day trial period, well beyond the 30 days required by state law, with a 100% refund if you’re not completely satisfied.  We also offer extended warranties, in-office repairs and service, manufacturer repair if needed, and a wealth of knowledge to customize hearing solutions for every patient, all as part of our Service Excellence Guarantee.  We will support you every step along your journey to better hearing.

To start your journey toward better hearing, call us to schedule an appointment for a hearing test.  Through our 4-step process, we’ll learn about you and your better hearing goals, examine your ears for any defects or blockages, diagnose your hearing loss, and show you what we can do to help you hear better.  Don’t wait to hear what you’ve been missing!  Early treatment can make all the difference!

In observance of New Year’s Day, Advanced Hearing Care will be closed on Friday, December 31. We will return for normal office hours on Monday, January 2. Have a safe and happy New Year!

The Noisiest Toys of 2011

Christmas time is here again, and this is arguably the busiest season for toy makers.  As most parents and grandparents know, some of the hottest toys of the season are also the ones that make the most noise.  And every year, with the commencement of the Christmas shopping season, the Sight and Hearing Association releases a list of the most dangerously loud toys available.

The Loudest Toys of the Year

The Noisiest Toys of 2011

The toy that gets this year’s dubious honor as the loudest is the Disney Cars 2 Shake ‘n Go! Racer, Finn Missile made by Fisher-Price, Inc.  This toy puts out 124 decibels of sound when held close to the ear and 99.5 decibels of sound when held 10 inches away from the ear.  Other toys on the list are the Sesame Street Let’s Rock Elmo Guitar made by Hasbro, the Tonka Toughest Minis Fire and Police vehicles by Funrise Toy Corp., and the Dora Tunes Microphone by Fisher-Price, Inc.  The entire list is now available for download.

Giving Perspective to the Numbers

How loud are everyday sounds? (Click for full-size image.)

To most people, 124 decibels is just a number.  But the Finn Missile Racer, when held close to the ear, is as loud as most rock-and-roll concerts.  When held 10 inches away from the ear, the same toy is still as loud as a motorcycle.  Both levels of sound are dangerous to human hearing.  Prolonged exposure to noise levels of 85 decibels and higher can result in permanent hearing loss.  At 120 decibels, damage can happen after less than 10 seconds of exposure.  At 100 decibels, it only takes 15 minutes of exposure for damage to occur.

Why the Current Standard Doesn’t Work

As of 2009, toy manufacturers were required to follow sound level guidelines for all toys. The American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) (ASTM F963-08) states the sound-pressure level produced by all toys except close-to-the-ear toys shall not exceed 85 decibels when held 50 centimeters (roughly 18 inches) from the surface of the toy.

Decibel-limiting headphones are an ideal hearing prevention measure for children and teenagers.

However, most kids play with their toys by holding them or sitting right next to them, not from a distance of 18 inches.  For the past 14 years, the Sight and Hearing Association has tested toys at distances simulating how a child might hold the toy – directly near the ear (0 inches) and at arm’s length (10 inches). A sound-proof acoustic chamber is used to ensure accurate measurements.

How to Protect Your Child’s Hearing

The most important thing a parent or grandparent can do to protect a child’s hearing is to listen to the toy themselves before they buy it.  If it sounds too loud in the store and through the packaging, it is too loud for a child.  You can put masking tape or packing tape over the speaker of loud toys to restrict their sound output.  Limiting the time a child can play with a loud toy is also advisable.  For older children, find sound-limiting ear buds or headphones to use with portable music players or hand-held game consoles.  Some of these devices have parental controls that allow you to control the maximum loudness that they will generate.

Good hearing is a precious and integral part of how children and people of all ages interact with the world around us. Hearing protection a relatively simple matter, especially when compared to the process of treating hearing loss. When it comes to your hearing, a good adage to live by is, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

It Doesn’t Really Matter If I Wear My Hearing Aids, RIGHT?

By: Bettie Borton, Au.D., FAAA
Doctor of Audiology
Doctors Hearing Clinic

Originally posted on the The Hearing Care Blog

Betty Borton, AuD., FAAA of Montgomery, AL

WRONG! According to ScienceDaily (Sep. 20, 2011), mild hearing loss has now been linked to brain atrophy in older adults. [ … M]ore and more research is indicating strong correlation between failure to obtain or use hearing devices and increased problems with understanding speech and cognition.

We have all heard (or perhaps experienced) the complaint that despite the fact that speech is audible, it’s not understandable. “I hear but I can’t understand” is probably the most commonly voiced concern in my office. So, if someone has hearing loss, if your hearing aids make sounds louder, why doesn’t that solve all hearing related issues? Well, like lots of things in life, it’s just not that simple.

A person’s audiogram (or those little blue X’s and red O’s on the graph of your responses to the “beeps”) tells us a lot, but it does not yield the whole story. Hearing thresholds (or the point at which someone is just barely able to detect sound across the frequency range) are certainly important, but don’t give much information regarding how well someone will understand when speech sounds are made sufficiently loud. Word recognition testing, with and without noise, provides additional information regarding this capability, and as a by-product, an indirect measure of the distortional component inherent to sensorineural hearing loss.

We now have mounting evidence that those who have hearing loss, but fail to get and/or use hearing devices run the risk of depriving their auditory system of sufficient loudness, which in turn results in degradation of the mechanisms responsible for understanding speech. A new study by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania shows that declines in hearing ability may accelerate gray mater atrophy in auditory areas of the brain and increase the listening effort necessary for older adults to successfully comprehend speech. When any one of our senses (smell, taste, sight, hearing, or touch) is changed in some way, the brain reorganizes and adjusts. In the case of those with hearing loss, researchers found that the gray matter density of brain in areas specific to hearing was lower in people with decreased hearing ability, suggesting a link between hearing ability and brain volume.

So, use it or lose it may be the prevailing philosophy. Take heart (and USE those instruments that you have!) According to this study,  early intervention for hearing loss with the consistent use of amplification can slow the progression of speech comprehension difficulty. “As hearing ability declines with age, interventions such as hearing aids should be considered not only to improve hearing but to preserve the brain,” said lead author Jonathan Peelle, PhD, research associate in the Department of Neurology. “People hear differently, and those with even moderate hearing loss may have to work harder to understand complex sentences.”

In two recent research studies, researchers measured the relationship of hearing acuity to the brain, first measuring the brain’s response to increasingly complex sentences and then measuring cortical brain volume in auditory cortex.  Results indicate that older adults (60-77 years of age) with normal hearing for their age were evaluated to determine whether normal variations in hearing ability impacted the structure or function of the network of areas in the brain supporting speech comprehension.

The studies found that people with hearing loss showed less brain activity on functional MRI scans when listening to complex sentences. Poorer hearers also had less gray matter in the auditory cortex, suggesting that areas of the brain related to auditory processing may show accelerated atrophy when hearing ability declines.

In general, research suggests that hearing sensitivity has important consequences for neural processes supporting both speech perception and cognition. Although most the research has been conducted in older adults, the findings also have implications for younger adults, including those concerned about listening to music at loud volumes. “Your hearing ability directly affects how the brain processes sounds, including speech,” says Dr. Peelle. “Preserving your hearing doesn’t only protect your ears, but also helps your brain perform at its best.”

Physicians should monitor hearing in patients as they age, and everyone should have a baseline audiogram performed by a Board Certified Audiologist, looking specifically at speech recognition abilities even in the presence of normal hearing. Patients should talk to their physician or audiologist if they are experiencing any difficulty hearing or understanding speech. If your physician has not referred you for hearing evaluation, take action!

The research cited above in this article appears in the latest edition of The Journal of Neuroscience and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Hearing Loss Increasing Among Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers sure are getting a lot of attention lately, and it’s not hard to understand why.  There are nearly 76 million people in the United States who were born between 1945 and 1964, a generation born during the post-WWII Baby Boom.  The younger generations are small by comparison.  As this population continues to age, they will have a profound impact on many things in the United States, particularly in the area of hearing health care.

Statistical data varies slightly, but most studies on hearing loss in the Baby Boomer population conclude that the number of Boomers with hearing loss is steadily growing.  One such study, conducted by The EAR Foundation and Clarity®, found that half of Baby Boomers are suffering with some degree of hearing loss.  That’s half of the nearly 76 million people born between 1945 and 1964.  By 2030, the number of Baby Boomers to experience hearing loss is expected to reach 50 million.

Some Boomers report that hearing loss interferes with conversations with loved ones.

A survey of 250 Baby Boomers and 250 children of Baby Boomers conducted by Siemens Hearing Instruments revealed a more telling conclusion.  Of the Baby Boomers surveyed, 72% believed that their hearing was average or better.  However, their children reported hearing difficulties in 70% of Baby Boomer fathers and 64% of Baby Boomer mothers.  This data shows a deep disconnect between Boomers and their families about the potential severity and consequences of hearing loss.

The study conducted by The EAR foundation and Clarity® made some startling discoveries on the impact of untreated hearing loss.  Twenty-three percent of individuals with hearing loss stated that their loss is affecting their performance at work.  Twenty-five percent believe that their hearing loss is detrimental to their earning potential.  The biggest impact of hearing loss is experienced while trying to hear and understand phone calls and communication with colleagues.  Of those polled, 57% have difficulty using a cellular phone because of their hearing loss.

Personal and family life is also affected for those Baby Boomers who have hearing loss.  The data showed that 40% of those polled have experienced negative consequences at home, such as not being able to effectively communicate with their loved ones.  Sixty-five percent reported having to turn the television up too loud for their friends and families.  These individuals report avoiding social situations and watching TV with friends and family.

With the development of the microchip and the advent of the digital revolution, most people may simply not realize that hearing technology has evolved right along with the personal computer, flat screen television, and digital music player.  Hearing technology is still stigmatized as being ugly, big, noisy, and inconvenient.  Hearing loss itself is associated with “old” age; therefore the treatment for hearing loss must also cause someone to look old.  The truth of the matter is that hearing aids have never been smaller and more discrete.  High frequency and mild losses are more easily treated than in previous years because of newer open-fit and receiver-in-the-canal models.  There are even solutions that are invisible when they are in the ear.  Sound quality has also improved due to advancements in speech enhancement and noise reduction features.  Today’s hearing technology is truly extraordinary in its sound clarity and ease of use.

Even with these breakthroughs in technology, very few Baby Boomers are pursuing treatment for their hearing loss. A survey conducted by the Better Hearing Institute recently revealed that only 20% of people who would benefit from hearing technology currently use amplification.  The Siemens Hearing Instrument study showed that only 25% of Baby Boomer who need hearing aids have even considered having a hearing test.  This data is particularly troubling in light of recent studies that have linked hearing loss to increased social isolation and the development of dementia among the elderly.

If you are a Baby Boomer who is experiencing the perception of Sound Voids™, don’t let that potential hearing loss hold you back and interfere with your lifestyle.  With the latest developments in hearing treatment solutions, there are options available for nearly every hearing loss.  Hearing testing can help you identify the nature and severity of any hearing loss you may be having, and a treatment evaluation can help you find a solution that is custom tailored to you and your lifestyle needs.  Hearing loss can affect both personal and professional life, so you can’t afford not to hear.  Don’t wait until old age, when it may be too late for amplification to help, to hear what you’ve been missing.  Call Advanced Hearing Care today and reintroduce yourself to a world of sound.

Hearing Loss and Dementia?

Listening to Music in the Park
Does hearing loss interfere with your lifestyle?

A recent study by Johns Hopkins and National Institute on Aging suggests that there may be a link between hearing loss and the development of dementia in the elderly.  The report, published in February of 2011, states that people with hearing loss may be as much as five times more likely to develop dementia as people with normal hearing.  The greater the degree of hearing loss, the greater the chances of dementia.

The cause for the link between hearing loss and dementia is unclear and has not been studied in great detail.  There are several speculations, including that hearing loss can often lead to social isolation, a known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders.  The exact nature of this link may continue to be a mystery as few researchers have studied how hearing loss affects cognitive brain function.

Whatever the cause for the relationship between hearing loss and dementia, the scientists report that their finding might offer hope for an intervention in the development of dementia.  Something as simple as hearing aids, a supplement to assist an aged or compromised auditory system, may delay or even prevent the onset and development of dementia.

This study affirms Advanced Hearing Care’s call to action to our patients.  Don’t wait for old age to hear what you’ve been missing.  Effective diagnosis and treatment of your hearing loss could be an easy way to keep dementia or other cognitive impairments at bay.  Call today and reintroduce yourself to a world of sound!