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Fall Risks and Those with Hearing Loss

While we all may occasionally feel a bit wobbly on our feet, for some it happens more often. Of the older generations approximately 65 years and up, the risks are even higher. One out of every four seniors take a fall at least once each year and of these, one in five have serious outcomes such as head injury or broken bones.
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), every 11 seconds someone in the 65+ age range is treated in an emergency room due to a fall, and tragically, every 19 minutes one will die as a result of a fall. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention report that the death rate for falls taken by older adults has increased by 31 percent between 2007 and 2016 and that number is still rising.
While unsafe surfaces likely account for some of these spills, difficulties with balance and walking are definite factors as well. Issues that involve symptoms of dizziness or vertigo rank as high as 80 percent in this older age group.
A condition called vestibular or inner ear dysfunction is among the leading causes of these symptoms. This includes the parts of the inner ear as well as the areas of the brain that help to control both balance and eye movements. Of U.S. citizens age 40 and up, approximately 35 percent have had problems with vestibular dysfunctions.
The vestibular area acts as a mechanism to control balance, motion, and spatial orientation. Balance disorders can manifest themselves in different ways such as a floating, unsteady feeling, blurry vision, confusion or disorientation, and faintness. These can all contribute to feelings of fear and panic for someone who has no idea their hearing loss can be related to these symptoms.
Damage to the vestibular system whether from age, disease, or injury is often related to the symptoms of vertigo and dizziness. The audiometric area of the ear can also be attributed to potential fall risk. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, as well as the University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health studies, show that those with a minimum of 25 dB hearing loss are three times as likely to report a fall. These chances rise with each 10 dB increase in hearing loss by a shocking 140 percent.
Over time, technology has evolved from what twenty years ago was a standard series of tests using video nystagmography (VNG) as well as caloric testing. Research now shows that approximately 68 percent of people with vestibular dysfunction was not diagnosed when tested with only VNG.
These days patients shouldn’t expect to receive answers like “everything appears normal” or “this is your new normal”. Testing is now much more accurate and specialists in this field stay up to date on the latest in technology as well as research findings in an effort to better diagnose and help their patients.
Conditions of cognitive decline that include a lack of coordination or trouble with regular activities increase the chances of falls and other injuries associated with imbalance according to research. Research shows that hearing loss can lead to this type of cognitive decline. Hearing loss that’s left undiagnosed can have painful consequences.
“Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding,” says Dr. Frank Lin, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”
With the latest technologies, doctors are now able to monitor a patient’s condition virtually which can really improve the benefits to those with hearing loss. By virtually connecting with patients between visits via virtual reality (VR) programs, they can provide those with balance disorders, dizziness, or vertigo with a safer and less stressful treatment.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), “Hearing and balance disorders cross all ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Approximately 37.5 million American adults report some degree of hearing loss and 33.4 million adults report a problem during the past 12 months with dizziness or balance, such as vertigo, unsteadiness, or blurred vision after moving the head.”
If you are living with hearing loss, there are several steps you can take to help minimize the risk of falling. The first and most important is to visit a trusted hearing health professional. They will perform an examination and possibly tests to determine the best way to help minimize the hearing loss. They can help you make the best choice for hearing devices and refer you to other specialists for services such as therapy to help with balance and coordination.
Other simple to perform tips are:

  • Get physical. Daily physical activity can help keep the body limber and prevent falls. Try some gentle movements such as activities that help improve balance, coordination, flexibility, and strength
  • Remove hazards around the home such as papers, boxes, electrical cords, or other cluttered areas
  • Fix loose boards or carpeting and rugs so they are not hazardous
  • Put things in their places like books, dishes, and small items, but keep them within easy reach so you’re not straining to get to them
  • Keep the home clean of spills such as food, grease, or liquids
  • Utilize nonslip mats in your tub or shower as well as the bathroom floors
  • Remove furniture (coffee or end tables, magazine or plant racks) from high traffic areas
  • Keep areas well light and place lamps in easy to reach areas so you’re not fumbling in the dark
  • Take advantage of assistive devices like grab bars for showers or tubs, handrails for stairways, nonslip treading on wood steps, and a solid seat and handheld shower wand for use while bathing

By visiting your hearing health professional and following these simple steps you have the tools to minimize the risk of falls for you or a loved one.

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What’s the Difference Between Hearing Aids & Hearing Amplifiers?

Have you heard of a hearing amplifier? Sometimes called a hearing enhancer or a personal sound amplifying product (PSAP), a hearing amplifier does just what its name suggests: it amplifies sound. While this may sound similar to what hearing aids do, they are different tools for different purposes.
First, let’s start with what hearing aids are and who might need them. Hearing aids are designed for people with hearing loss. They work by boosting or enhancing certain frequencies of sound in order to help the person better hear that particular frequency. This can, in turn, help the person better understand speech and other sounds.
Hearing aids are typically professionally fitted and finely tuned to each person’s unique needs. This is because each case of hearing loss is unique. Hearing aids are highly personal and can be a great tool for improving a person’s ability to hear sounds and communicate with others. When properly used, hearing aids can improve a person’s quality of life.
Now, let’s turn to hearing amplifiers. Hearing amplifiers are made for people with normal hearing. Unlike hearing aids, which enhance only certain frequencies, hearing amplifiers work by amplifying all sounds.
A hearing amplifier’s abilities can be useful in situations where the sound needs a boost to allow you to hear it better, such as while watching TV, while birdwatching, or while at the theater. Sound amplifiers can also be used in closed environments where the sound level needs a boost, such as at the cinema or in a restaurant. Some sound amplifiers can even be used to keep an “ear” out for babies or small children at home. You may want to use a hearing amplifier if you have normal hearing and would like to enhance the sound by simply making it louder.
Sound amplifiers are not made for people who are hard of hearing. Using a sound amplifier when you suffer from hearing loss will likely do nothing to improve your ability to hear or understand sounds. This is because the amplifier will boost the volume of all sounds, while most people with hearing loss have difficulty hearing specific frequencies. Furthermore, neglecting to properly treat hearing loss can lead to further deterioration of your hearing ability.
It may sometimes be difficult to tell whether you simply need the sound to be louder (as provided by a sound amplifier) or if you are experiencing hearing loss. The following are common signs of hearing loss:

  • Difficulty hearing in crowded or noisy environments
  • Constant need to increase the volume on the TV, radio, or music
  • Difficulty understanding conversations
  • A sensation of muffled hearing
  • Frequently choosing to avoid social events and activities
  • Spending more time trying to read lips

If you have noticed these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, hearing loss may be the cause. In these cases, it is important to receive high-quality care from a hearing professional. They will be able to evaluate your hearing ability and recommend the proper hearing device.
To learn more about the difference between hearing amplifiers and hearing aids, and to set up an appointment with our friendly hearing professional, we encourage you to contact our office today.

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Not Just for Sleeping: White Noise Can Improve Your Hearing

Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you turn on relaxing sounds before bed? White noise is used by many to drift off to dreamland at night with machines and even smartphone applications replicating the noise, but a new study by the University of Basel has found that white noise may be able to do much more than help you catch some Z’s. Though it is essentially an extra background noise, researchers have concluded that it can make hearing pure sounds more precise, a realization with the possibility of aiding in the future development of cochlear implants.

How Is White Noise Special?

Most of us associate white noise with the sound an old television set makes without a signal, but white noise is far different than other noise. By definition, white noise is described as a random signal made up of sounds from all the frequencies the human ear can hear, but at the same exact intensity. How does that help you sleep and hear? Since it is created from all of the frequencies the ear and brain can perceive, no sound is uniquely distinct, turning everything you hear into a blurred “hissing” or “shushing” sound. This continuous sound makes it much easier for us to sleep through things such as a door slamming or a ringing phone, as they are folded into the blur and muffled. Next time you put on white noise before going to bed, remember that you are hearing every sound from every frequency between 20Hz to 20,000Hz all at once.

University of Basel’s Findings

Your brain has an extraordinary ability to pick out relevant information from less relevant background noise thanks to an area that processes auditory stimuli called the auditory cortex. Led by Professor Dr.Tania Rinaldi Barkat from the Department of Biomedicine, the University of Basel’s team investigated sound perception and sound discrimination in a challenging sound environment.
Past studies have concluded that the distinction between sounds becomes more difficult the closer they are in frequency, which led researchers to believe that introducing white noise would make the task even more challenging. Despite their beliefs, the opposite was observed, with research concluding that “the brain’s ability to distinguish subtle tone differences improved when white noise was added to the background. Compared to a quiet environment, the noise thus facilitated auditory perception.” But how?

White Noise Reduced Neuronal Activity

Data presented by the group had found that white noise reduced the activity of the nerve cells in the auditory cortex by a significant margin. In contradictory fashion, this inhibition of the neuronal activity led to a more precise perception of pure tones. We found that less overlap occurred between populations of neurons during two separate tone representations,” stated Dr. Barkat. “As a result, the overall reduction in neuronal activity produced a more distinct tone representation.”

This Conclusion May Help In The Future

According to Dr. Barkat, it is possible that cochlear implants could use an effect similar to white noise in order to improve the frequency resolution and in turn, the hearing of their users. To determine whether white noise may help you, speak to a hearing health professional about possible options.

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Holistic Methods That May Help Ease Your Tinnitus

With around 50 million Americans reporting some form of tinnitus and 1 in 5 saying their condition is disabling, it’s clear that tinnitus is a serious problem that affects the day to day lives of many. Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus, but there are ways to ease or treat your symptoms depending on the root cause. For some, an underlying ailment such as a blood vessel condition or impacted earwax may be the cause of the bothersome buzzing, while others may choose to use medication such as antidepressants to reduce symptoms. Though medication may be a treatment option, certain medications are ototoxic and may actually worsen your tinnitus symptoms, leading some patients to prefer more holistic methods to avoid being introduced to new prescriptions. These certain adjustments to your daily life may reduce your tinnitus symptoms and increase your quality of life.

Lifestyle Changes

There are a number of changes you can make that may reduce your tinnitus symptoms that do not require supplements or medication.

  • Manage Stress. Studies have linked the onset of tinnitus to stressful events in patient’s lives, and there is a clear correlation between the severity of tinnitus symptoms and stress levels. Reducing stress may reduce the chance of experiencing tinnitus, or make your symptoms easier to cope with.
  • Avoid Possible Irritation. Some medications, stimulants, and environments are known to worsen tinnitus symptoms. Avoiding aspirin, nicotine, caffeine, and exposure to loud noises may stop the ringing from becoming more severe.
  • Drink Less, Hear More. Alcohol consumption is known to increase the severity of your tinnitus due to alcohol’s ability to dilate the blood vessels causing more blood to flow within the inner ear. This increased blood flow may change the composition of fluid in the inner ear and can have accompanying vertigo as well.

Alternative Medicine

Though there is little evidence to support alternative medicine’s treatment of tinnitus, some alternative therapies have been used to help patients with their symptoms.

  • Zinc Supplements. Research has found that some patients with tinnitus may have low blood zinc levels. A 2003 study by the Ankara Numune Research and Education Hospital in Turkey found that patients who took 50mg of Zinc daily for 2 months reported a 10 dB decrease in the volume of their tinnitus, though these results are inconclusive.
  • Vitamin B. Like Zinc, Vitamin B deficiency is more common in people with tinnitus. Though some studies have found an improvement in symptom severity following Vitamin B12 therapy, the results are not overwhelmingly significant.
  • Tinnitus has often been linked to trouble sleeping, with exhaustion leading to higher levels of stress, anxiety, and severity of symptoms. Melatonin is a hormone used to regulate sleep cycles, which may make falling and staying asleep much easier.

Seek The Advice of a Hearing Health Professional

Starting a supplement regimen or new medication without the approval of a health care provider may result in worsening symptoms. Before starting any treatment options, it is best to consult a hearing health professional who knows your unique health needs and can give you the most up to date medical advice.

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The Future Is Today: Brain-Controlled Hearing Aids

When you imagine what the future will be like in, say, 20 years, what do you see? Pop culture fosters expectations of flying cars, personal jetpacks, hoverboards, and much more. Some recent technological advances even seem like something you would find in a science fiction novel, not in real life—like self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality technologies.
Another futuristic advancement that may soon be a reality is more closely related to current hearing devices than to flying cars: brain-controlled hearing aids. Hearing aids have already seen numerous advances and developments in recent years, making them more effective than ever before. Today’s hearing aids are smaller, more comfortable, more discreet, and more powerful than those of years past.
Even with recent advances, hearing aids are still imperfect. One area where hearing aid users often notice a big difference from before they wore or needed hearing aids is in listening to a speaker when other noise is present. In a person with normal hearing, your brain distinguishes between the target speaker and all other noises, allowing you to focus on the target and minimize your attention to other speakers or sounds.
However, hearing aids cannot automatically perform this same function. If you increase the volume on your hearing aid in an effort to better hear the target speaker, you are also increasing the volume on all of the background noise. Some hearing aids allow the user to identify a target speaker by turning their head or gaze towards the target speaker, or by manually selecting the target speaker. These features are helpful yet imperfect; if the hearing aid user cannot maintain a gaze in the direction of the target speaker, does not want to use manual selections, or the target speaker is very close to another speaker, these features come up short.
Enter brain-controlled hearing aids. Previous research has determined that when a person focuses their listening efforts on a certain speaker in a noisy environment, their brain waves track the voice of the target speaker. The aim of a brain-controlled hearing aid is to monitor the brainwaves of the user in order to facilitate hearing and amplifying the voice of the target speaker.
Although much research and development remains to be explored in this field, recent research has shown promise in separating and amplifying the sound of a target speaker among background noise and other speakers. In a 2019 experiment, researchers used an auditory attention decoding (AAD) process to detect and amplify a target speaker among mixed background noise. The study participants indicated that it was significantly easier to follow the voice of the target speaker in the AAD-enhanced audio than in the original mixed audio. This advance can be used in brain-controlled hearing aids to amplify the voice of the target speaker and enable the listener to better follow a specific voice.
One major obstacle that remains to be overcome by researchers is determining a noninvasive and nonintrusive way to monitor the brain signals of the hearing aid user. This, along with an AAD process that accurately and rapidly identifies the target speaker, will present a challenge for researchers and developers. Still, the promise of brain-controlled hearing aids is very real and is closer than we may realize today.
For more information about brain-controlled hearing aids and other exciting advancements in the audiology field, we encourage you to contact our hearing professional today.