Our lifestyles have been hi-jacked. Social distancing or social isolation, whichever you prefer, has taken its toll on almost everyone. I am told daily by patients that they think their hearing may be changing. Some patients are worried that they are having more difficulty performing simply tasks. One patient told me they thought their brain is melting into a puddle. My goodness! In a country that is known for its freedom and liberty, it is very concerning to witness people becoming so withdrawn.

Our good health requires social interaction. It requires a feeling of continuity ... or togetherness. It needs a feeling of belonging. So many people are now faced with feeling alone or isolated. Patients now look forward to getting out and going to appointments. For some, the doctors’ appointments, where they get to interact with a group of staff members, may be the only people that they talk face to face within days.

With that interaction comes the “dreaded mask.” Finally, you get to speak to a person face to face. Not on a screen with Zoom or FaceTime ... face-to-face... yet you are struggling with understanding their speech. That dreaded mask takes away the volume and clarity of their voice. It hides their lips and half of their facial features. Many patients wonder if their hearing is getting worse...or is it just the mask. In reality, probably just the mask. However, if you wear hearing instruments then you may like a prescription setting to boost the speech differently to offset the deficit that the mask is causing. If you don’t wear hearing instruments and are having difficulties, then you should get a hearing consult to determine if you have “just been getting by” and should actually be utilizing amplification. Everyone should have their hearing checked annually.

One thing is for sure: This pandemic has brought hearing loss to the forefront. Those suffering with hearing problems are having more difficulty managing related health conditions. So many health conditions are related to hearing.

Safety or balance: People with just a mild hearing loss are three times more likely to have a history of falling.

Osteoporosis: People diagnosed with this have an increased risk of 1.8 times of having hearing loss.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease: One in 10 people with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease have hearing loss.

Cardiovascular disease: Patients with low-frequency hearing loss are considered at risk for cardiovascular events.

Diabetes: Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as their peers who are not diabetic.

Medication non-adherence: Homebound adults with hearing loss are two times more likely to skip taking their medications than those with normal hearing.

Hearing instrument usage: Homebound and social isolation causes people to reduce wearing schedules of their hearing instruments; often stating that they are not around others so they don’t need to “hear.” If you wear hearing instruments, please put them in. Your brain needs auditory stimulation to stay alert and healthy. Twelve hours a day helps to defer cognitive decline. There is always sound in the environment. The brain will feel and hear the soft sounds that are present. Treat your brain well.

Don’t help your brain “melt into a puddle.” Think of it this way: You take blood pressure medicine to regulate blood flow. You take diabetes medicine to regulate blood sugar. Hearing instruments regulate nerve stimulation in your inner ear, which leads to the brain. Simple. Twelve hours per day minimum.

This pandemic has made your hearing problems greater and brought to light communication abilities to those who thought they “were fine and could get by.” Talk with your hearing health care provider to determine if your current hearing instruments can be re-programmed for better hearing when you are encountering masks. Our newest hearing instruments, the Livio Edge AI ™ by Starkey Hearing Technologies, actually have a ‘double-tap’ feature that enables you to just reach up, tap the hearing instrument twice and switch in to a specially programmed “Mask Mode.” So easy and so helpful.

Don’t let time slip away. When you do get the opportunity to be around others, make sure you can hear them as well as possible. To Hear Better Is To Hear Better!

Roseann B. Kiefer, B.A., BC-HIS, is owner of Lampe and Kiefer Hearing Aid Center, Sebring. This information is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure your condition. Always talk to your doctor before following any medical advice or starting a diet or exercise program.