AZ Balance & Hearing Aids provides premium audiological care in Phoenix, AZ. Services include hearing testing, hearing aids, tinnitus, balance disorders. In this blog they ver topics related to hearing loss, hearing aids, tinnitus, balance disorders and more.
Have you noticed you’ve been a bit more accident prone than normal lately? It might not just be a random onset of clumsiness. Experiencing more accidents may actually indicate an issue with your hearing. In fact, a new study found a direct and convincing correlation between self-reported hearing loss and risk of injury producing accidents. The study was published in the JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and was based off a 232.2 million participant survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Findings and Specifics of the Study
The study was published last month and used eight years of data, from 2007 to 2015. The researchers intended to study the effect of hearing loss on accidental injury during work, leisure and while driving. Participants were asked to report their hearing as “excellent”, “good”, “a little trouble”, “moderate trouble”, “a lot of trouble”, and “deaf”. Participants were also asked to report accidental injuries they had experienced in the 3 months preceding the survey date. The survey indicated that in all three categories: work, leisure or sport and driving, degree of hearing loss affected the rate of accidents. Compared to participants who reported their hearing as “excellent”, those who reported their hearing as having “a little trouble” were 60% more likely to have experienced an accidental injury, those with moderate hearing were 70% more likely and those with a lot of hearing issues were a whopping 90% more likely to have experienced an accident that resulted in injury.
Dr. Neil Bhattacharyya, the lead author of the study recognizes that while the survey does rely solely on self-reported hearing loss rather than an objective measure like a formal hearing assessment, the results are still very striking and conclusive. He says of the results, “Not hearing warning signs when jogging, cycling — that can put you in harm’s way. Hearing loss is not just a social nuisance. It can predispose you to injury.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/27/well/live/hearing-loss-may-make-you-accident-prone.html).
Accidental injuries are one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States. If hearing loss plays in the role of increased risk of sustaining these injuries, then treating hearing loss may help to reduce them. This is not the only study that has linked hearing loss to an increased risk of falls, injuries or safety concerns.
In 2017, John Hopkins University published a study entitled, “Hearing Loss and Falls Among Older Adults in the United States”. In this particular study, objective auditory assessments were used to determine a participant’s hearing abilities. These findings were then coupled with vestibular function. Vestibular function measure’s a person’s balance and ability to orientate oneself in spatial environments. This study had astounding results. The researchers discovered that even just a mild degree of hearing loss tripled a participant’s risk of falling. As hearing loss degrees worsened, the participant’s risks went up 140% for every 10 decibels of hearing loss (https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52548-New-research-links-hearing-loss-to-an-increased-risk-of-falls).
Can Hearing Aids Help?
The exact reason hearing impairments are linked to more falls is unknown, but scientists and doctors believe a few factors play a role. Firstly, those with a hearing impairment have a decreased awareness of the environment around them because they cannot hear subtle sounds. Another contributing factor is decreased spatial awareness (or awareness of where one’s body is in space as related to other objects and people). The third known factor is the cognitive overload that happens with hearing loss. If your brain is constantly straining to hear and understand, there can be a lack of cognitive energy for other things such as balance (https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52548-New-research-links-hearing-loss-to-an-increased-risk-of-falls).
Hearing aids can definitely help reduce the risk of all of these factors. With hearing aids comes an increased environmental awareness. With hearing aids, the softer and more subtle warning sounds are more likely to be heard and falls more likely to be avoided. It has also been proven that hearing aids decrease the mental strain put on your brain. When your brain is not pouring its cognitive energy into trying to hear and understand, it can also take care of other factors such as awareness of safety issues as well as increased balance.
For the very first time, the Phoenix Police Department and the Arizona Commission for Deaf and the Hard of Hearing have teamed up to improve relations between police officers and the deaf and hearing impaired community. The training opportunity gave officers the chance to get specialized training on how to handle tactile situations with a person who has a hearing impairment.
Throughout the day, the general consensus seemed to be positive for both the deaf volunteers as well as the police officers. For example, Sargent David Montoya felt the training made him more aware of things he could do as an officer to improve communication with someone who has a hearing impairment. “It helps us understand if they’re having these challenges” he says, “if they’re struggling to communicate, we’re part of that communication. Communication is a two-way street. There are things we can do on our end like … a deaf person may have that card in their visor that has information, being aware of alternative ways of communication as opposed to just talking.”
Ultimately, the training was positive for all involved and improved relationships were forged between the deaf and hard of hearing community and the Phoenix police department.
Is This Really Necessary?
For most of us, getting pulled over is unnerving and stressful. For people living with a hearing impairment, these feelings are amplified. While most interactions between police officers and members of the hearing-impaired community end peacefully, there have been situations where a little miscommunication has had deadly results.
In 2016, a 29-year-old man was shot and killed by a police officer in North Carolina. Daniel Harris was unarmed, and only feet from his front door at the time of the shooting. According to the officer involved, Daniel had been speeding and when the officer attempted to pull him over, Daniel continued driving instead. It is unclear whether Harris knew he was being pulled over, as he would have been unable to hear the sirens. Upon arriving home, Harris exited his vehicle and an exchange occurred between him and the officer, which ended in Harris being shot and killed on the scene. Witnesses to the tragic event say it appeared that Harris was attempting to communicate via sign language. According to most reports, Daniel Harris was unarmed and had just landed an exciting new job. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/daniel-harris-shooting-mourners-remember-deaf-man-killed-police-questions-n636776).
Tragically, Daniel Harris’ story is not unique. Just a few months ago another deaf man was fatally shot by police, this time in Oklahoma. In September 2017, officers in Oklahoma City were responding to a hit-and-run incident that led them to an address where they encountered 35-year-old Magdiel Sanchez. Sanchez was holding a two-foot metal pipe with a leather strap around his wrist. Officers report ordering Sanchez to drop the weapon, but he did not comply. Neighbors who were witness to the shooting report yelling to the police officers that Sanchez was deaf and unable to hear them. Unfortunately, their cries went unheard and two officers fired fatal shots at the same time. It was also reported that Sanchez also had developmental disabilities and was unable to talk. Medical personnel pronounced Sanchez dead on the scene. Sanchez’s father owned the car involved in the hit and run and Magdiel was not in the vehicle at the time of the incident (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/09/21/552527929/oklahoma-city-police-fatally-shoot-deaf-man-despite-yells-of-he-cant-hear-you).
These terrible stories are difficult to comprehend and shed a fair amount of light on the need for more training for police officers when they come into contact with a person who has a hearing impairment. More police departments should follow Phoenix’s lead and implement training procedures to help prevent tragic accidents like the two stories mentioned above. If you are deaf or have a hearing impairment, the ALCU has put together this helpful video with tips on how to interact with police officers: https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/deaf-rights-what-do-when-dealing-police.
Our world is getting louder, without a doubt, and amidst all that noise, our hearing is at risk. Unfortunately, we often become acclimated to noise pollution without recognizing the hazard it poses to our ongoing hearing health.
Noise pollution affects our hearing in the long and short term. Immediately we may notice a decreased ability to focus and concentrate around noise. Noise levels can also impact our ability to sleep and get the proper amount of rest. In the short run, excess noise exposure in our environment can cause permanent hearing damage if left unchecked. Over time, permanent hearing damage accrues into significant hearing loss meaning that noise pollution today shapes our hearing in the future.
Know Your Hazardous Noise
Listen to your surroundings. Do you hear loud traffic or construction? Maybe your neighbor is using their lawn mower or there is an appliance running in your home. All of these things operate around the threshold of hazardous noise.
OSHA has set standards for dangerous noise levels on jobsites, but they are important levels for everyone who wants to protect their hearing to know and understand. At a workplace, noise levels cannot exceed 85 decibels without the provision of hearing protection. In the mid-1970s the EPA released a rough guideline for noise pollution, warning people to protect their ears if they were regularly surrounded by 75 dB of noise or greater. The 75-dB threshold is capable of causing hearing damage with continual 24-hour exposure.
At 85 dB, sound permanently damages your hearing after 8 hours of exposure. As decibel levels increase, the safe sound exposure time drops dramatically. Noise at 95 decibels limits your safe exposure to 4 hours, while at 105 dB sound does permanent damage in an hour or less. Sounds that register at 120dB and above are not safe at any exposure and may cause physical pain to the ear.
Testing Sound Levels
How do you know if the environment around you is too loud? Your first indication is your own ears. If it is hard to hold a conversation at normal voice levels and difficult to concentrate on tasks, there may be a noise problem involved. Often sound that is 75 dB or greater will seem irritating to our ear and make us take notice. However, more and more people are accepting these overly loud conditions as part of everyday life, unaware that it may be causing lasting damage.
Smart technology puts quick and accurate decibel reading quite literally in the palm of your hand. Multiple free smart phone apps have the ability to measure incoming noise and let you know if your sound exposure is at a hazardous level. If you think your surroundings may be too loud, spend some time measuring sound in your area with a decibel reader. Constant noise above 75 dB is a cause for concern, as is ongoing daytime noise, like construction sounds, that register at over 85 dB.
Protect Yourself When It Is Too Loud
What do you do when you know your life is too loud? Noise pollution can be frustrating, so it is important to find solutions that are personal and more community-driven. For your own health, you’ll need to find ways to protect your hearing around noise. Use quality ear protection like ear muffs or ear plugs to dampen the sound level you are exposed to. At home, you can use sound dampening curtains and flooring to weaken noise coming in from outside your home.
In your community, be active about raising noise pollution awareness. If your neighborhood doesn’t have enacted quiet hours, petition your local government to better regulate excessive noise. Education is part of the equation as well. Talk to your friends and neighbors about the hazards of environmental noise to build coalitions. Discussing the issue with local school districts can help bring noise awareness into the classroom and teach children how to take care of their hearing.