Building Connections | May is Better Hearing and Speech Month

Building Connections | May is Better Hearing and Speech Month

Dr. Molly Dillon Uncategorized

Dr. Molly Dillon

It’s been a difficult year for most of us, with COVID-19 upending normal life in ways that most of us were not prepared to predict. With that in mind, ASHA (the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) has embarked on its annual Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM) with the theme “Building Connections.”

As vaccination rates increase and we slowly return to something like normal life, now is the time to think about building connections. The pandemic has presented special issues for those with hearing loss. Face masks muffle speech and prevent lip reading, while social distancing also makes it harder to understand speech. Now, more than ever, it’s important that those who could benefit from hearing aids start wearing them, as we venture back out into the world and build connections with those around us.

ASHA has divided BHSM into four weekly sub-themes, focusing on a specific issue during each week in May to help spread knowledge about hearing loss and the importance of treating it with hearing aids.

  • Week 1: Untreated Hearing Loss in Adults
  • Week 2: Early Intervention & COVID-19
  • Week 3: The Role of Health Care SLPs (speech-language pathologists) in COVID-19 Recovery
  • Week 4: Summer Skill Building, Hearing Protection for School-Aged Children

More information is available each week on ASHA’s website.

Hearing Loss Is Undertreated

While about 48 million Americans are living with some type of hearing loss, only about 1 out of 5 have sought treatment for it. Many people imagine that their hearing loss is not posing significant enough problems yet to start wearing hearing aids. We tend to want to wait until problems are unavoidable in our daily lives before we start wearing hearing aids to deal with our hearing loss.

Unfortunately, even mild hearing loss can pose issues that we may not even think about. One of the first signs of hearing loss is experiencing fatigue in group social situations. As background noise increases, hearing loss makes it more difficult for us to separate speech from the din. The result is that we have to try to understand speech using context clues and guesses about which words are being said. It’s exhausting!

Even Mild Hearing Loss Poses Challenges

Already with mild hearing loss, we not only experience this fatigue but can start to notice ourselves having memory issues. The auditory cortex, where speech is interpreted from sound in our brains, is closely tied to short-term memory. When we aren’t hearing as clearly, more of the work of speech interpretation moves to the frontal cortex, which is further from the short-term memory centers in our brain. This extra distance, combined with the extra cognitive load involved in using the frontal cortex for speech interpretation, can contribute to memory problems.

If hearing loss is left untreated for long enough, the auditory cortex will atrophy. As the auditory cortex receives less information from our ears, the parts that go unused will begin to collapse. It’s not that the brain cells die, but that the grey matter between them starts to dissipate. Over time, this leads to losing the ability to decipher speech, even when we hear it clearly! This is why many hearing health centers offer training sessions for new hearing aid wearers: many people who have let their hearing loss go untreated for many years will need to re-learn how to understand speech.

Hearing Aids Can Help

The good news is that hearing aids are better than ever. Sophisticated technology now allows them to track our movements and adjust their program automatically for different environments. Rechargeable batteries help them fit easily into our routines. Bluetooth integration allows them to connect directly to smartphones and other devices to stream phone calls, video conferences and entertainment media. Smart apps allow you to customize settings, adjust volume, and even talk to us directly and have your fitment adjusted without needing to visit the office. There are hearing aids of all shapes and sizes, appropriate for every lifestyle.

If you or a loved one is having hearing issues, or if you’re due for a hearing test, make an appointment with us today and find out whether hearing aids are right for you. Celebrate Better Hearing and Speech Month by improving your hearing health!