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Posted Oct 28, 2017 at 6:00 AM at www.telegram.com
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WORCESTER – Keith Darrow serves as director of audiology research for Hearing & Balance Centers of New England, located in Worcester. He received his undergraduate degree in communication science and disorders from UMass Amherst, a clinical degree in audiology from Brooklyn College and doctorate from M.I.T and Harvard Medical School, with a focus on speech and hearing bioscience and technology.
Mr. Darrow is a research associate at the Eaton Peabody Lab at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute as well as a professor of hearing science, audiology, research and assessment and treatment of balance disorders at Worcester State University.
The author of “Stop Living in Isolation,” he opened the Worcester hearing center with a staff of six employees four years ago. It serves surrounding communities such as Shrewsbury, Sturbridge, Leicester, Milford, Leominster, Framingham and more.
One of the reasons people wait so long is that hearing loss is a slow, progressive degenerative disorder that occurs over time. I believe people are sometimes in fear of going to a doctor – already knowing the diagnosis. Ninety-nine percent of the people who come here already have hearing loss and it’s a scary thing knowing you’ll be diagnosed with a disorder.
Hearing loss is the third most common disorder affecting seniors, according to Health and Human Services.
I also think people are leery because they’ve been bombarded with the retail and sales tactics involved in the selling of traditional hearing aids.
That’s one of the things that differentiates us. Our practice is involved in the medical treatment of hearing loss. We’ve phased out traditional hearing aids.
Even a mild hearing loss is a major problem. Even with a mild loss, your increased risk of developing dementia goes up 200 percent to as much as 500 percent.
The most obvious is get your hearing tested regularly, starting at the age of 50. Just like going to primary care every year, it’s important you obtain a baseline and develop a strong relationship with your doctor of audiology.
We live in a very loud world so protection is very important. I can’t stress that enough. Science has now proven to us that noise exposure can significantly impact or increase the rate of hearing loss so that it happens at a much earlier age.
We’re all genetically prone to hearing loss. But those with noise exposure it happens much younger. In my 20 years of experience, I’ve seen my average age of patients go from 74 down to 66.
It’s both recreational and occupational noise exposure. If it is not at work, you could be going to loud rock concerts and be in a band so it’s both. Unfortunately, the limits that have been set are not stringent enough. If you don’t have control of the volume, you should absolutely wear hearing protection. It comes in all shapes and sizes from over-the-counter plugs to custom units.
The third thing: catch it early and treat it early. Treatment is critical to maintaining both the quality and quantity of connections to the brain.
After all, we hear with our brain, not with our ears.
I am the only practicing audiologist in the country that has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from MIT and Harvard Medical School. (There are two others but they are not practicing).
I believe that this approach, which is, understanding that we hear with our brains and not with our ears, helps us to better serve our patients and to help them understand the impact of hearing loss on their overall quality of life and cognitive function.
I’ve dissected brains and seen the actual impact of hearing loss on the brain.
Hearing loss can lead to cerebral atrophy – as much as a 40 percent reduction of neurons in the brain. My 12 years of research at Mass Eye & Ear really helped give a different perspective on the neurology of hearing and how to use that to help our patients.
We’ve phased out traditional hearing aids here. They essentially make things louder.
Ask anyone with a traditional aid and when they go to a restaurant, speech is louder, but so is the background noise, the clanging of the dishes, the radio, etc. So, they have the basic premise of volume enhancing.
NeuroTechnology is specifically designed to treat the cognitive aspects of hearing loss. It’s designed to enhance clarity, improve cognitive function, and most importantly, it has a noise reduction filter that mimics the brain’s normal hearing ability to reduce background noise. Once you get hearing loss, the filter is gone and it’s harder to follow a conversation.
NeuroTechnology provides a much more natural, clear experience. They are incredibly discreet and easy to manage and as an added bonus, it has some cool features that it can connect to cellphones, TVs and telephones to help stay connected to all forms of communication.
The number one cause is aging. There’s also loss resulting from medication, noise exposure, viruses. … Nearly 50 percent of people between ages 60-70 have hearing loss, 70-80 is up to two-thirds and over age 80, it’s more than 80 percent.
Signs include: having difficulty with background noise, having to really focus and work harder to follow the conversation; tinnitus or ringing in the ears; and reduced clarity is one of the biggest. My patients will tell me, ‘I can hear you but I can’t understand everything you are saying.’ They are losing some of the speech details.
Hearing loss increases the risk of developing dementia by 200 to 500 percent.
The data first came out in 2011 from John Hopkins and the National Institute of Aging.
It’s been verified in multiple research reports since then.
There are three major links. One is social isolation and depression – both factors for developing dementia. Hearing loss leads to cerebral atrophy or brain shrinkage. You can lose as much as 40 percent brain volume – especially in the memory, language, speech portions of the brain. In neuroscience, the third is called cognitive overload.
Think of it as working too hard to hear. My patients will tell me, ‘let me put my glasses on so I can hear better.’ They are trying to use lip reading or environmental cues to fill in the missing pieces.
The brain wasn’t meant to work that hard. I liken it to, your brain on hearing loss is like driving your car 60 mph in second gear. You are wearing down the gears over time.
It’s probably a mix of all those factors that lead to increased risk of dementia.
There are three studies (France, Columbia University and Lancet Journal) that looked at all modifiable risk factors for developing dementia. The single most factor to protect from dementia is treating hearing loss. It’s greater than increased social activity, physical activity, etc., all of those combined.
The science is really there to help people realize that treating hearing loss can reduce your risk of dementia.
Compiled by Correspondent Susan Gonsalves