Improving Mobility & Accessibility with Hearing Loss
Much has been discussed about the effects of hearing loss on speech recognition and interpersonal relationships. Untreated hearing loss affects another area of our lives: spatial mobility and safety. Here we discuss how treating hearing loss helps improve your quality of life and provide tips on traveling with your hearing aids.
Addressing Hearing Loss to Improve Mobility and Quality of Life
“the movement of older people is often negatively affected by their hearing loss.”
A recent study from the University of Jyvaskyla and the University of Tampere in Finland found that “older people with hearing problems have more limited life space, and that these problems lower their quality of life,” and that “the movement of older people is often negatively affected by their hearing loss.”
For two years, researchers monitored 848 older people (ages 75 to 90) and analyzed their movements in conjunction with hearing loss. Results show that “people who experienced hearing problems in different everyday situations moved less within their local area than those who considered their hearing to be good.” Indeed, factors to be considered include a person’s lifestyle as well as the degree of their hearing loss.
According to Hannele Polku, one of the researchers, “a person with many everyday social contacts and communication with others may feel that even a minor hearing loss may affect by everyday functioning. On the other hand, a person more inclined to enjoy domestic tasks carried out on one’s own doesn’t experience the same number of problems due to a change of similar degree in hearing.”
In treating hearing loss, one could improve their quality of life by empowering greater mobility within one’s life space. The use of hearing aids brings significant benefits to one’s life, namely restoring a sense of confidence. With the use of hearing aids, people are more likely to reconnect with the world around them.
How Hearing Loss Affects Every Day Life
Your sense of hearing is always on. Unlike a sense such as sight – which ceases when you go to bed – or taste – which kicks into gear when you’re eating or drinking – hearing is the thing that connects you to the world around you 24/7. This is why alarm clocks, though irritating, are so successful at waking you up! And think about it – we know when to move out of the way when a car honks or that we need to evacuate a building when we hear the fire alarms clanging. Furthermore, beyond keeping you safe, your sense of hearing provides you with an awareness of the space around you. Imagine how spatially challenging life would be without our sense of hearing to connect us!
As an invisible sense to which most of us do not often pay attention, hearing could gradually change over time without us noticing. Hearing loss tends to occur gradually over an extended period of time, and because we make adjustments (turning up the volume, asking people to repeat themselves in conversation), we may not notice right away that we are experiencing hearing loss. For this reason, people wait an average of seven years from the time they first notice changes in their hearing abilities until they decide to seek treatment.
Untreated hearing loss can impact your quality of life, at home and on the job. Depending on the level of hearing loss, we may not be able to hear fire alarms, bells at railroad crossings, storm warnings, car horns, doorbells, or a ringing phone. The various sounds we experience during the day provide us with audio data that informs our brains on how to keep us safe.
When it comes to employment, 60% of the American workforce experiences some degree of hearing loss. In an analysis of income levels of people with hearing loss (both treated and untreated) of similar employment, marital status, age, gender, and lifestyle, it was found that “people with moderate to profound hearing loss, who did not use hearing aids, experienced household incomes $5,000 to $6,000 less than their counterparts who did use hearing aids.” Treating hearing loss, regardless of the degree, has benefits for one’s professional life.
Treating Hearing Loss with Hearing Aids
If you’ve been diagnosed with a hearing loss, chances are you have been prescribed a pair of hearing aids. These devices are designed to amplify and clarify sound, ensuring that you are reconnected to and aware of your surroundings. With the use of a hearing aid, we are more likely to hear sounds that are important to keeping us safe: alarms, alerts, honks, phone calls, etc. And, even more, the use of hearing aids provides us with confidence to make our way through our day without assistance, which instills a sense of independence that is so crucial to our well-being.
It’s not just movement that matters. By treating hearing loss, you are less likely to feel isolated socially and more likely to continue pursuing the activities and hobbies that you enjoyed before hearing loss. Treating hearing loss keeps you connected to your friends and the communities of which you are a part.
In terms of physicality, our auditory system and our vestibular (balance) system are closely linked. Studies have found that treating hearing loss significantly reduces the number of falls. Many advanced hearing aids offer features that connect us to the world around us. Hearing aids fitted with a telecoil allow us to loop into hearing systems at public venues and spaces, while many cinemas and theatres offer assisted listening devices to make performances more accessible. Treating hearing loss has an overall positive, healthy impact on your life.
Traveling with Hearing Loss & Hearing Aids
Make Sure Your Hearing Aids are in Good Shape
Before you go on your trip, schedule an appointment with your audiologist or hearing instrument specialist. They’ll check your hearing aids to make sure they are in proper working order. If you have experienced changes in your listening experience, let your audiologist or hearing instrument specialist know. They’ll check your hearing aids to see if there are any repairs necessary that may improve your listening experience. If this doesn’t help, they’ll administer a hearing test to see if your hearing abilities have changed since your last visit.
Make a Packing List & Check It Twice!
Batteries are the most important part of your hearing aids, when all is said and done. If your hearing aids run on traditional lithium air disposable batteries, make sure you have a supply that’ll last the duration of your trip. You never know if you can find exactly where you need where you’re going, so it’s good practice to make sure you don’t run out.
If you use rechargeable hearing aids, you don’t have to worry about buying a supply of disposable batteries to lug on your trip. Don’t forget to pack your charging station! If you are traveling to a foreign country, check to see the electrical requirements. You may have to obtain an adaptor for your charger; this is fairly inexpensive at a hardware or home goods store.
If you use assistive listening devices (ALDs) or a portable, vibrating alarm for waking up, be sure to pack them and have extra batteries.
Don’t forget to bring any accessories and cleaning supplies necessary to maintain your hearing aid. Bring a soft cloth to clean your hearing aids. If you are traveling to a particularly warm location, consider investing in a dehumidifying solution. A few hours in the dehumidifier will ensure that moisture will not destroy your hearing aids.
During Your Travels
With hearing loss, challenging noise environments include airports and train stations. Between the crowds of people and overhead announcements, it may be difficult for you to focus on the ticket agent or to catch schedule changes on the loudspeaker. If possible, print out all of your travel documents beforehand so that communication is a cinch.
For people with smartphone compatible hearing aids, download your hearing aids’ compatible app and make adjustments to your listening experience. Before you go, set up your phone to receive alerts and texts from your airline, informing you of any changes to your schedule.
Airports and public transportation hubs are public spaces, and if they’re in the US, they are required to provide reasonable accommodation for people who are hard of hearing. Check to see if there are assistive listening devices available, or see if there is a hearing loop that you could connect with through your hearing aids’ telecoil.
If you plan on taking a long road trip via car to your destination, make sure your hearing aids are fully charged.
Arriving at Your Destination
When booking your hotel room, notify the hotel concierge of your hearing needs before you check in. There are different assistive listening options available, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Certain accommodations include vibrating alarm clocks, vibrating or light-up emergency alarms, morning wake-up knocks on the door, and TV/radio ALDs.
If you’re being hosted by a friend or family member, or if you’re renting an Airbnb, make an effort to communicate your hearing needs beforehand to your hosts. For example, if may be difficult to hear if someone is calling you from another room. Depending on your habits and communication style, give people some advice on how to best get your attention or make sure you are present.
Get Your Hearing Tested for Optimal Movement and Quality of Life
Indeed, traveling and general movement throughout your day both come with their own stresses, which are compounded when it comes to hearing loss. If you haven’t yet, it is highly beneficial to your overall well-being and quality of life to seek treatment for hearing loss. By treating hearing loss, your confidence and independence will improve along with your ability to recognize and process sounds, making it easier for you to move around – whether it’s in your neighborhood or across the globe.