Yes, you should wear your hearing aids from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep. That is why you got them: to wear them! Your hearing aids were designed to be worn, not left on the kitchen counter. Many people who would benefit from wearing hearing aids either never get them or chose not to wear them. Yet studies show there is a connection between the inability to hear sounds, and cognitive loss, especially in older adults.
Hearing aids are meant to be worn for long periods of time, so use them when you're not sleeping.
That said, don't wear your hearing aids when swimming, or doing activities that generate noise, such as mowing the lawn.
When not wearing them, put your hearing aids onto their charging station.
A national clinical trial is studying the relationship between hearing loss and several measures of cognitive decline, social engagement, loneliness, etc.
You should be privileged to be able to use them. There are many people who have measurable hearing loss but are not good candidates for hearing aids for various reasons. There may be more benefits to wearing your hearing aids than you think.
Hearing aids are not made for us to look old. They are intended to improve our quality of life, particularly improving our ability to communicate, promote intimacy, and emotional stability, create a sense of control over life events, and above all, improve our physical and cognitive functioning.
In fact, much attention has been focused recently on the relationship between our hearing and cognition and how our ears and brains work together. Hearing loss has been associated with an increased risk of dementia and other signs of cognitive decline.
Are there times when should I leave my hearing aids out?
It is wise to avoid water exposure to hearing aids such as in the shower, bath, or swimming. Hearing aids should be left out at the barber or hair salon to avoid the risk of moisture, heat, or chemicals such as hair sprays.
Avoid wearing hearing aids when applying perfumes, lotions, or sunscreen. Hearing aids should be left out if you are exposed to loud noises such as lawn equipment, power tools, or loud music.
Leave your hearing aids out when you go to sleep. This will avoid loss of the devices or damage. It will also allow for your ear canals to catch a break, reducing the chances of building up moisture, irritation to the ear canals, or excessive earwax.
The best place for your hearing aids is the case they came in which is usually also their charging station. If you have an older set of hearing aids that use batteries, be sure to open the battery door to make certain that there is no moisture build-up, and the power is off.
Common complaints about hearing aids
Fortunately, hearing aid manufacturers have worked with patients and engineers to develop solutions to many of the common complaints and excuses for the non-use of hearing aids.
Common complaints and excuses for not wearing hearing aids include:
- Fit and comfort of the hearing aid.
- Not being effective in noisy environments.
- Difficulty in putting in or taking out the hearing aid (dexterity).
- Side effects such as rashes, itchiness, or drainage.
- The financial burden of purchasing hearing aids and wanting to return them. There are newer, more cost-effective hearing aids available for some users that are over the counter.
The focus on future hearing aid development will need to be on improving hearing aid value and ease of use and maintenance.
What is the ACHIEVE study and why is it important?
As it turns out, hearing aid use is complex and personal. Improvement of hearing with hearing aids is associated with improved cognition, memory, and social engagement. These are more reasons to wear your hearing aids than just hearing.
A national clinical study sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health began in 2017 to investigate the relationship between aging and cognitive health. The Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders (ACHIEVE) randomized controlled trial focuses on hearing interventions and education and counseling.
The primary goal of the trial is to study the relationship between hearing loss and several measures of cognitive decline, social engagement, loneliness, physical functioning, and health-related quality of life measures.
The clinical trial is incomplete at present, but it will lend more credibility to the use of hearing aids in the elderly population. One step is getting people to get hearing aids. The other step is making sure people use hearing aids as much as possible.
What else is being done regarding finding a cure for hearing loss?
To be clear, there is no cure for hearing loss. Unlike eyeglasses which aim to correct our vision, hearing aids can only “aid” our hearing. Presbycusis or age-related hearing loss affects one-third of all of us.
In a recent study at Johns Hopkins, researchers performed a pre-clinical or animal study with mice to search for answers about how the brain interacts with the auditory (hearing) system.
It has long been recognized that with age, the tiny hair cells in our inner ear become damaged or lost. But until recently, no one has studied what influence the brain has on hearing loss or how the brain may adapt to the loss of electrical inputs from the hair cells.
In the Johns Hopkins study, it was discovered that there was a significant difference between the brains of young and old mice when it came to hearing loss, specifically neuron activity. Older mice’s brains were found to have neurons that work overtime to make up for the lack of auditory information from the inner ear.
As a result, the older mice had trouble distinguishing sounds and some hearing information was deemed confusing or “fuzzy.” The good news is that human brains may be better than mouse brains at processing sounds.
How does it relate to wearing my hearing aids as much as possible?
Even before this recent finding in mice, it has long been believed that one of the reasons hearing loss may be associated with cognitive decline in older adults is mental overload.
Other parts of the brain, especially those involved in thinking and memory, have to pitch in order to help compensate for poorly transmitted sound. As the brain redirects thinking and memory resources to help with hearing instead of cognitive functions, there can be mental overload when hearing loss is left untreated (without wearing hearing aids). That is why older people with hearing loss strain to not only hear but also to understand what they are hearing.
Many audiologists are using cognitive screening as a double-pronged approach to maximizing hearing outcomes. These cognitive assessments work as an advanced-level tool that aids in the development of a highly effective hearing healthcare plan.
Cognitive screening results show a link between hearing loss and cognition. There are scores for memory, visual-spatial cues, executive function, and reaction time.
Wearing your hearing aids is the first step in the success of this type of plan. It may be worth discussing these options with your audiologist to make maximum use of your hearing aids so they are not left on the kitchen counter.