Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Treat Your Hearing Loss

We all procrastinate, regularly talking ourselves out of challenging or uncomfortable tasks in favor of something more pleasing or fun. Distractions are all around as we tell ourselves that we will at some point get around to whatever we’re currently working to avoid.

Often times, procrastination is fairly harmless. We might wish to clear out the basement, for example, by throwing out or donating the items we rarely use. A clean basement sounds good, but the work of actually lugging things to the donation center is not so pleasant. In the interest of short-term pleasure, it’s easy to notice myriad alternatives that would be more enjoyable—so you put it off.

Other times, procrastination is not so benign, and when it comes to hearing loss, it could be downright dangerous. While no one’s idea of a good time is having a hearing examination, current research reveals that neglected hearing loss has serious physical, mental, and social consequences.

To understand why, you have to begin with the impact of hearing loss on the brain itself. Here’s a recognizable analogy: if any of you have ever broken a bone, let’s say your leg, you know what occurs after you take the cast off. You’ve lost muscle size and strength from inactivity, because if you don’t consistently use your muscles, they get weaker.

The same thing takes place with your brain. If you under-utilize the part of your brain that processes sounds, your ability to process auditory information grows weaker. Scientists even have a name for this: they call it “auditory deprivation.”

Back to the broken leg example. Let’s say you removed the cast from your leg but persisted to not use the muscles, relying on crutches to get around the same as before. What would happen? Your leg muscles would get progressively weaker. The same occurs with your brain; the longer you go with hearing loss, the a smaller amount of sound stimulation your brain gets, and the worse your hearing gets.

That, in essence, is auditory deprivation, which results in a host of additional conditions current research is continuing to reveal. For example, a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University showed that those with hearing loss encounter a 40% drop in cognitive function in comparison to those with normal hearing, as well as an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

General cognitive decline also brings about substantial mental and social effects. A leading study by The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) detected that those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia, and were less likely to join in social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids.

So what starts out as an inconvenience—not being able to hear people clearly—leads to a downward spiral that disturbs all aspects of your health. The sequence of events is clear: Hearing loss leads to auditory deprivation, which produces general cognitive decline, which leads to psychological harm, including depression and anxiety, which ultimately leads to social isolation, wounded relationships, and an elevated risk of developing serious medical conditions.

The Benefits of Hearing Aids

So that was the bad news. The good news is equally encouraging. Let’s visit the broken leg example one last time. Right after the cast comes off, you start working out and stimulating the muscles, and after some time, you regain your muscle mass and strength.

The same process once again applies to hearing. If you heighten the stimulation of sound to your brain with hearing aids, you can recover your brain’s ability to process and comprehend sound. This leads to better communication, better psychological health, and ultimately to better relationships. And, in fact, according to The National Council on the Aging, hearing aid users report improvements in almost every area of their lives.

Are you ready to achieve the same improvement?

How Insects are Revolutionizing Hearing Aids

Contemporary hearing aids have come a long way; present models are highly effective and include incredible digital functions, like wifi connectivity, that dramatically enhance a person’s ability to hear along with their overall quality of life.

But there is still room for improvement.

Specifically, in specific instances hearing aids have some challenges with two things:

  1. Locating the source of sound
  2. Eliminating background noise

But that may soon change, as the most current research in hearing aid design is being guided from a unexpected source: the world of insects.

Why insects hold the key to improved hearing aids

Both mammals and insects have the same problem pertaining to hearing: the conversion and amplification of sound waves into information the brain can use. What researchers are finding is that the method insects use to solve this problem is in ways more proficient than our own.

The internal organs of hearing in an insect are more compact and more sensitive to a bigger range of frequencies, allowing the insect to detect sounds humans are unable to hear. Insects also can sense the directionality and distance of sound in ways more exact than the human ear.

Hearing aid design has typically been directed by the way humans hear, and hearing aids have tended to offer simple amplification of incoming sound and transmission to the middle ear. But researchers are now asking a different question.

Finding inspiration from the natural world, they’re inquiring how nature—and its hundreds of millions of years of evolution—has attempted to solve the problem of sensing and perceiving sound. By assessing the hearing mechanism of assorted insects, such as flies, grasshoppers, and butterflies, researchers can borrow the best from each to generate a brand new mechanism that can be put to use in the design of new and improved miniature microphones.

Insect-inspired miniature directional microphones

Researchers from University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, and the MRC/CSO Institute for Hearing Research (IHR) at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, will be evaluating hearing aids equipped with a unique type of miniature microphone inspired by insects.

The hope is that the new hearing aids will achieve three things:

  1. More energy-efficient microphones and electronics that will eventually lead to smaller hearing aids, lower power usage, and longer battery life.
  2. The capacity to more precisely locate the source and distance of sound.
  3. The ability to focus on specific sounds while eliminating background noise.

Researchers will also be trying out 3D printing methods to improve the design and ergonomics of the new hearing aids.

The future of hearing aids

For virtually all of their history, hearing aids have been produced with the human hearing mechanism in mind, in an effort to recreate the normal human hearing experience. Now, by asking a different set of questions, researchers are creating a new set of goals. Instead of attempting to RESTORE normal human hearing, perhaps they can AUGMENT it.

6 Ways Your Brain Transforms Sound Into Emotion

It has long been understood that there are powerful connections among sound, music, emotion, and memory, and that our personal experiences and preferences determine the type and intensity of emotional reaction we have to different sounds.

As an example, research has uncovered these prevalent associations between particular sounds and emotions:

  • The sound of a thunderstorm evokes a feeling of either relaxation or anxiety, depending on the person
  • Wind chimes commonly evoke a restless feeling
  • Rain evokes a feeling of relaxation
  • Fireworks evoke a feeling of nostalgia and pleasurable memories
  • The vibrations of a cell phone are often perceived as irritating

Other sounds have a more universal character. UCLA researchers have discovered that the sound of laughter is globally identified as a positive sound signifying enjoyment, while other sounds are globally associated with fear, anger, disgust, sadness, and surprise.

So why are we predisposed to specific emotional responses in the presence of specific sounds? And why does the reaction tend to vary between people?

While the answer is still essentially a mystery, recent research by Sweden’s Lund University provides some exciting insights into how sound and sound environments can influence humans on personal, emotional, and psychological levels.

Here are six psychological mechanisms through which sound may arouse emotions:

1. Brain-Stem Reflex

You’re sitting quietly in your office when all of a sudden you hear a loud, sudden crash. What’s your reaction? If you’re like most people, you become emotionally aroused and compelled to investigate. This kind of response is subconscious and hard-wired into your brain to alert you to possibly important or harmful sounds.

2. Evaluative Conditioning

People commonly associate sounds with selected emotions depending on the circumstance in which the sound was heard. For instance, hearing a song previously played on your wedding day may induce feelings of joy, while the same song first heard by someone during a bad breakup may result in the opposing feelings of sadness.

3. Emotional Contagion

When someone smiles or laughs, it’s tough to not smile and laugh yourself. Research conducted in the 1990s found that the brain may contain what are known as “mirror neurons” that are activated both when you are carrying out a task AND when you are watching someone else carry out the task. When we hear someone communicating while crying, for instance, it can be challenging to not also experience the associated feelings of sadness.

4. Visual Imagery

Let’s say you love listening to CDs containing only the sounds of nature. Why do you enjoy it? Presumably because it evokes a positive emotional experience, and, taking that further, it probably evokes some robust visual images of the natural surroundings in which the sounds are heard. Case in point, try listening to the sounds of waves crashing and NOT visualizing yourself relaxing at the beach.

5. Episodic Memory

Sounds can trigger emotionally potent memories, both good and bad. The sounds of rain can stir up memories of a relaxing day spent at home, while the sound of thunder may induce memories connected with combat experience, as seen in post-traumatic stress disorder.

6. Music Expectancy

Music has been depicted as the universal language, which seems logical the more you give it some thought. Music is, after all, simply a random array of sounds, and is enjoyable only because the brain imposes order to the sounds and interprets the order in a certain way. It is, in fact, your expectations about the rhythm and melody of the music that induce an emotional response.

Sound, Emotion, and Hearing Loss

Regardless of your specific responses to various sounds, what is certain is that your emotions are directly involved. With hearing loss, you not only lose the ability to hear particular sounds, you also lose the emotional force associated with the sounds you can either no longer hear or can no longer hear properly.

With hearing loss, for example, nature walks become less rewarding when you can no longer hear the faint sounds of running water; music loses its emotional impact when you can’t distinguish certain instruments; and you place yourself at increased risk when you can’t hear fire alarms or other alerts to danger.

The truth is that hearing is more important to our lives—and to our emotional lives—than we probably realize. It also indicates that treating your hearing loss will probably have a greater impact than you realize, too.

What are some of your favorite sounds? What emotions do they evoke?

Are there any specific sounds or songs that make you feel happy, angry, annoyed, sad, or excited? Let us know in a comment.

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