There’s a health spiral associated with hearing loss. Hearing loss has more impact on an elderly person than you might think.

Whether it’s your dad, your grandmother, your spouse, or even you, we all know someone who suffers from age-related hearing loss. In fact, 50% of people older than 75 experience disabling hearing loss. Now, doctors are using cochlear implants to restore hearing and save lives.

102-year-old Irvin Poff survived WWII but is still feeling the impact 80 years later.

Ear surgeon, Akira Ishiyama, MD, says, “In the past when you’re flying a bomber, there really wasn’t any concept of hearing protection. Hearing loss, in this age group, is quite important to treat because it could deteriorate dementia or make dementia worse.”

A new study found people over 75 with hearing loss are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia and lose their cognitive abilities up to 40% more quickly than people without a hearing problem.

Until recently, someone Poff’s age would not be considered for a cochlear implant, which is a small electronic device that electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve, but now, he’s become one of the oldest people to receive this life-changing technology.

“We also have a technology to combine the use of a hearing aid and a cochlear implant called the hybrid technology. By both taking advantages of the hearing aid and an implant, we can help patients who have some hearing in a low frequency, but no hearing in the mid and higher frequencies.”

The combination of the two technologies took Poff’s hearing from 30 to 60%.

“My understanding of words is almost twice what it was before,” Poff explains.

Dementia is not the only risk factor associated with hearing loss. If you suffer a mild hearing loss you are three times more likely to fall, and suffer from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression.

Article originally appeared on WFAB

Can you imagine a time when hearing loss would be commonplace? When it would be more prevalent than not in a social setting? When it would be the new normal? Given demographic trends, we may be rapidly approaching such a time. This is driven by three important factors — (1) the median age of the U.S. population is increasing, (2) people are living longer, and (3) the higher incidence of hearing loss in older adults.

Hearing Health Care Will Be Increasingly Important

In the National Academies of Sciences’ report Hearing Health Care For Adults, the authors use demographics to demonstrate the increasing impact hearing health care will have from a social policy standpoint.

According to the report, in 1900, 4.1 percent of the U.S. population was 65 years or older, representing a little over 3 million people; by 2012, 13.7 percent of the population or 40 million people were 65 or older, and by 2060, 24 percent of the U.S. population is expected to be 65 or older. These trends are similar in other developed nations around the world.

Combined with the fact that people are living longer and the higher incidence rates of hearing loss in older adults, we may be approaching a time when hearing loss is the new normal among adults. Higher rates of noise pollution and ubiquitous earbud use may also make hearing loss more common across other age groups, although this could be offset by better-regulated noise levels in work settings.

Increasing Hearing Loss Prevalence Has Some Silver Linings

The trends are frightening, but the good news for those of us with hearing loss is that as hearing loss becomes more “normal,” social change is inevitable. I can imagine several positive developments.

1. Reduced stigma. When something is commonplace, stigma recedes. This would be wonderful news for people living with hearing loss and might push people to seek treatment for hearing loss more quickly. Currently, people wait an average of seven to ten years before seeking assistance.

2. Cheaper and more widespread access to hearing solutions. This is already in process as companies prepare for a new FDA category of over-the-counter hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. With increased demand and new competitors entering the market, innovation and lower prices are likely.

3. Trendier hearing devices. When everybody has one, individuality will become more important, making hearing devices fair game for fashion. That will be fun.

4. Quieter spaces. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Restaurants might begin turning down the music to attract older patrons. Movies and other theaters may also start turning down the volume while dialing the sound clarity.

5. Better hearing assistance everywhere. Captioning, looping, and other assistive technologies could soon become the norm. Maybe the captioning on live T.V. programs would also improve. As demand grows, new forms of hearing assistance for public spaces will likely result.

6. More regular screening by doctors. Changing demographics should lead to changes in the medical profession. Since earlier detection and treatment of hearing loss could help reduce associated health problems such as depression, a greater risk of falls, and a higher likelihood of dementia, we may see hearing screenings become a standard part of an annual physical.

7. Clearer speech patterns. With more people with hearing loss, enunciation and careful diction may again become the typical speech pattern. That would certainly make things easier to hear!

8. Increased emphasis on hearing research. This can only be good news. The more scientists learn about how hearing works (and doesn’t work), the more successful they will develop new cures and better ways to prevent hearing loss.

Article originally appeared on PsychologyToday

Around 15 percent of the world’s population suffers from tinnitus, a condition which causes someone to hear a sound (such as ringing or buzzing) without any external source. It’s often associated with hearing loss.

Not only can the condition be annoying for sufferers, it can also have a serious effect on mental health, often causing stress or depression. This is especially the case for patients suffering from tinnitus over months or years.

There’s currently no cure for tinnitus. So finding a way to better manage or treat it could help many millions of people worldwide.

And one area of research that may help us better understand tinnitus is sleep. There are many reasons for this. First, tinnitus is a phantom percept. This is when our brain activity makes us see, hear or smell things that aren’t there. Most people only experience phantom perceptions when they’re asleep. But for people with tinnitus, they hear phantom sounds while they’re awake.

The second reason is because tinnitus alters brain activity, with certain areas of the brain (such as those involved in hearing) potentially being more active than they should be. This may also explain how phantom percepts happen. When we sleep, activity in these same brain areas also changes.

Our recent research review has identified a couple of brain mechanisms that underlie both tinnitus and sleep. Better understanding these mechanisms – and the way the two are connected – could one day help us find ways of managing and treating tinnitus.

Sleep and tinnitus

When we fall asleep, our body experiences multiple stages of sleep. One of the most important stages of sleep is slow-wave sleep (also known as deep sleep), which is thought to be the most restful stage of sleep.

During slow-wave sleep, brain activity moves in distinctive “waves” through the different areas of the brain, activating large areas together (such as those involved with memory and processing sounds) before moving on to others. It’s thought that slow-wave sleep allows the brain’s neurons (specialized brain cells which send and receive information) to recover from daily wear and tear, while also helping sleep make us feel rested. It’s also thought to be important for our memory.

Not every area of the brain experiences the same amount of slow-wave activity. It’s most pronounced in areas we use most while awake, such as those important for motor function and sight.

But sometimes, certain brain areas can be overactive during slow-wave sleep. This is what happens in sleep disorders such as sleep walking.

A similar thing may happen in people with tinnitus. We think that hyperactive brain regions might stay awake in the otherwise sleeping brain. This would explain why many people with tinnitus experience disturbed sleep and night terrors more often than people who don’t have tinnitus.

Tinnitus patients also spend more time in light sleep. Simply put, we believe that tinnitus keeps the brain from producing the slow-wave activity needed to have a deep sleep, resulting in light and interrupted sleep.

But even though tinnitus patients have less deep sleep on average than people without tinnitus, the research we looked at in our review suggests that some deep sleep is hardly affected by tinnitus. This may be because the brain activity that happens during the deepest sleep actually suppresses tinnitus.

There are a couple of ways the brain may be able to suppress tinnitus during deep sleep. The first has to do with the brain’s neurons. After a long period of wakefulness neurons in the brain are thought to switch into slow-wave activity mode to recover. The more neurons in this mode together, the stronger the drive is for the rest of the brain to join.

We know that the drive for sleep can get strong enough that neurons in the brain will eventually go into slow-wave activity mode. And since this especially applies to brain regions overactive during wakefulness, we think that tinnitus might be suppressed as a result of that.

Slow-wave activity has also been shown to interfere with the communication between brain areas. During deepest sleep, when slow-wave activity is strongest, this may keep hyperactive regions from disturbing other brain areas and from interrupting sleep.

This would explain why people with tinnitus can still enter deep sleep, and why tinnitus may be suppressed during that time.

Sleep is also important for strengthening our memory, by helping to drive changes in connections between neurons in the brain. We believe that changes in brain connectivity during sleep are contributing to what makes tinnitus last for a long time after an initial trigger (such as hearing loss).

Treating tinnitus

We already know that intensity of tinnitus can change throughout a given day. Investigating how tinnitus changes during sleep could give us a direct handle on what the brain does to cause fluctuations in tinnitus intensity.

It also means that we may be able to manipulate sleep to improve the wellbeing of patients – and possibly develop new treatments for tinnitus. For example, sleep disruptions can be reduced and slow-wave activity can be boosted through sleep restriction paradigms, where patients are told to only go to bed when they’re actually tired. Boosting the intensity of sleep could help us better see the effect sleep has on tinnitus.

While we suspect that deep sleep is the most likely to affect tinnitus, there are many other stages of sleep that happen (such as rapid eye movement, or REM sleep) – each with unique patterns of brain activity.

In future research, both the sleep stage and tinnitus activity in the brain could be tracked at the same time by recording brain activity. This may help to find out more about the link between tinnitus and sleep and understand how tinnitus may be alleviated by natural brain activity. The Conversation

Article originally appeared on Science Alert

Millions of years ago, all mammals lived on land, but at some point, several species left land and evolved to a life in the sea: think of seals and whales, which today are adapted to life underwater.

The rest who remained on land have similarly adapted to a life on land, and it can hardly come as a surprise that we humans today hear better on land than underwater — which is the conclusion from a group of scientists in a new study. But the study also reveals surprising news about human hearing..

Jakob Christensen-Dalsgaard is an expert in animal hearing and in his laboratory at University of Southern Denmark, he tirelessly throws himself into hearing studies of animals such as cormorants, geckos, frogs, crocodiles — and now also humans. This time, together with Ph.D. student Kenneth Sørensen and biologist Magnus Wahlberg, also from University of Southern Denmark, and an expert in animal underwater hearing.

Decades of hearing tests

Since the 1950s, several different attempts have been made to measure human hearing underwater. The US military, for example, has had an interest in understanding how divers are affected by underwater explosions, and in general, the hearing tests have been very different.

Some subjects have been tested with diving equipment on, others with neoprene caps and still others with air-filled diving masks — all of which can affect the test subjects’ hearing.

“But common to all these scientific studies is that they all find hearing thresholds that are higher than the thresholds we have found in our new study, he says.

We hear as well as seals underwater

In the new study, in which 7 people participated, the average hearing threshold of 71 dB (3.5 mPa) is at 500 Hz. Hearing threshold is a measurement of which volumes you can only just hear.

“It is 26 dB lower than hypothesized in previous studies, so we must conclude that humans hear significantly better underwater than previously reported by science. In fact, the threshold at 500 Hz is in line with how well animals such as cormorants and seals hear underwater,” says Jakob Christensen-Dalsgaard.

Worth noting in this context is, that e.g., seals and dolphins — unlike us — can hear very loud sounds underwater — also sounds that humans cannot hear.

The previous studies hypothesized that the human ear underwater works by so-called bone conduction; that is, that the sound waves vibrate the skull. That hypothesis would fit the high hearing thresholds found in previous studies.

“But we believe that resonance in the enclosed air in the middle ear amplifies the sound and makes the ear more sensitive. We have also shown this in previous studies of cormorants, turtles, and frogs,” explains Jakob Christensen-Dalsgaard

You should not expect to be able to jump into the sea and orient yourself perfectly using only your sense of hearing, says Jakob Christensen-Dalsgaard: sense of hearing is not just about being able to pick up a sound. It is also about determining the direction of the sound — and this is very difficult for a person underwater.

“In air we can determine the sound direction within a few degrees, but in water there is an up to 90 degrees error margin. This is not so strange, because we are trained to react to the small time differences between the ears, which are due to the speed of sound in air. In water, the speed of sound is four times greater, and the time differences are much smaller,” Jakob Christensen-Dalsgaard explains, concluding: “The results tell us that humans have a reduced ability to determine the direction of sounds underwater, thus confirming that human hearing is not adapted to work well underwater.”

Researchers from Uppsala University have been able to document and visualise hearing loss-associated genes in the human inner ear, in a unique collaboration study between otosurgeons and geneticists. The findings illustrate that discrete subcellular structures in the human organ of hearing, the cochlea, are involved in the variation of risk of age-related hearing loss in the population. The study is published in BMC Medicine.

Hearing loss is a potentially debilitating condition that affects more than 1.23 billion people worldwide. The most common form of hearing loss, which represents 90% of all cases, is related to the degenerative effects of aging on hearing, i.e., age-related hearing loss or presbycusis. However, the molecular mechanisms that underlie the development of age-related hearing loss and individual variation in risk are poorly elucidated.

In the current study, a unique collaboration was established between otologists and geneticists at Uppsala University, which allowed for functional follow-up studies of candidate genes from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) using immunohistochemistry in the human cochlea.

“The cochlea, and in particular the hearing organ, the organ of Corti, is a highly vulnerable structure that is difficult to analyse since it is surrounded by the hardest bone in the body,” says Helge Rask-Andersen, MD and Senior Professor at the Department of Surgical Sciences. “We have been able to study some of the molecular components of human hearing that are critical for the conversion of sound to nerve electric impulses.”

Genetic variants at 67 genomic regions were found to contribute to increased risk of age-related hearing loss. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) on hearing-related traits were performed in the UK Biobank, which has half a million participants from the United Kingdom. Genetic associations are difficult to interpret by themselves and follow-up experiments are often required before causal genes can be inferred.

“It is an amazing opportunity to be able to follow up our findings in human cochlear samples, since there are molecular differences between the hearing organ of humans and other mammals,” says Mathias Rask-Andersen, Associate Professor at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology.

Candidate proteins from GWAS were visualized with immunofluorescent antibodies and super-resolution structured illumination microscopy (SR-SIM) by Dr Wei Liu, MD and Associate Professor at the Department of Surgical Sciences. Several proteins were observed within the spiral ganglion, which contains the neuronal cell bodies that innervate the hair cells in the organ of Corti and carry neuronal impulses to the brain via the cochlear nerve.

The researchers could also visualize hearing loss-associated proteins in discrete subcellular domains in the hair cells for the first time in humans, such as TRIO and F-actin-binding protein (TRIOBP) in the hair tufts (stereocilia) and LIM domain only protein 7 (LMO7) in the cuticular plate, which is an actin-rich structure that anchors stereocilia to the cell body. The stereocilia are the microscopic or nano-sized ‘hairs’ that protrude from the hair cells of the organ of Corti. They respond to mechanical vibrations from sounds that reach us and are transferred and amplified from the ear drum to the inner ear by the small middle ear bones.

Taken together, the findings from the current study demonstrate that common genetic variations associated with age-related hearing loss affect the structures of the cochlea, in particular the neuronal processes of the spiral ganglion, but also structures directly involved in the transduction of mechanical stimuli to neuronal impulses. This knowledge may help to better understand the biological mechanisms that lead to age-related hearing loss and generate strategies for prevention such as novel pharmacological treatments.

Article originally appeared on Science Daily

Queen Mary researchers funded by Bart’s Charity used electronic primary healthcare records from over a million people living in East London between 1990 and 2018 to explore early symptoms and risk factors for Parkinson’s, according to an article on the Queen Mary University of London website.

The researchers found that known symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, including tremor and memory problems, can appear up to ten and five years before diagnosis respectively. They also uncovered two new early features of Parkinson’s, epilepsy and hearing loss, and were able to replicate these findings using additional data from the UK Biobank.

While early signs of Parkinson’s have been described previously, these studies have largely focused on affluent white populations, with patients from minority ethnic groups and those living in areas of high social deprivation largely underrepresented in Parkinson’s research to date. The new study provides further evidence of risk factors and early signs of Parkinson’s, using data from such a diverse and deprived urban population for the first time.

In East London, conditions like hypertension and Type 2 diabetes were associated with increased odds of developing Parkinson’s. The researchers also observed a stronger association between memory complaints within this population than previously described.

East London has one of the highest proportions of Black, South Asian, and mixed/other ethnic groups, which comprise around 45% of residents in the area, in comparison to 14% in the rest of the UK. It also has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the UK, and 80% of patients included in the study were from low-income households.

Lead study author Dr Cristina Simonet, neurologist and PhD student at Queen Mary, commented: “This is the first study focusing on the pre-diagnostic phase of Parkinson’s in such a diverse population with high socioeconomic deprivation but universal access to health care. People from minority ethnic groups and deprived areas have largely been underrepresented in Parkinson’s research up till now, but to allow us to get a full picture of the condition we need to ensure research is inclusive and represents all those affected.

“Our results uncovered novel risk factors and early symptoms: epilepsy and hearing loss. Whilst previous research has hinted at the association, such as epilepsy being more prevalent in Parkinson’s patients than in the general population, more research is now needed for us to fully understand the relationship. In the meantime, it’s important that primary care practitioners are aware of these links and understand how early the symptoms of Parkinson’s can appear, so that patients can get a timely diagnosis and doctors can act early to help manage the condition.”

Dr Alastair Noyce, reader in neurology and neuroepidemiology at Queen Mary, who is also an author on the new research, continued: “People see their GPs with symptoms but often don’t get a diagnosis until five to ten years after this. Tremor, for example, is one of the most recognizable symptoms of Parkinson’s – but was seen 10 years before eventual diagnosis in our study. This is too long for patients to wait. If we’re able to diagnose Parkinson’s earlier, we have a real opportunity to intervene early and offer treatments that could improve quality of life for patients.

“This study confirms that many of the symptoms and early features of Parkinson’s can occur long before a diagnosis. Through our ongoing PREDICT-PD research, we’re hoping to identify people at high risk of Parkinson’s even before obvious symptoms appear – which means that we could do more than just improve quality of life for patients, and perhaps be in the position to slow down or cure Parkinson’s in the future.”

PREDICT-PD is a large research project funded by Parkinson’s UK that aims to identify people at high risk of developing the condition. The researchers are looking for 10,000 people aged 60-80 years from all backgrounds who do not have Parkinson’s, to take part in a simple set of online tests that screen for factors linked to increased risk of the condition.

Shafaq Hussain-Ali, a former native East Londoner of Pakistani Punjabi descent who was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s three years ago and is a member of Parkinson’s UK Race Equality Steering Group, said: “Parkinson’s affects everyone, regardless of race or social background, but research has often failed to represent the diversity of the community. This research and the work that Parkinson’s UK is leading helps address the many unknowns regarding how the condition affects people from underrepresented groups. It means that life-changing new treatments can be developed that will benefit everyone with the condition.

“I want to get the message out that young Asian people like myself can be affected by this condition, and that more people are likely to be affected by young onset Parkinson’s in the future. Getting an early diagnosis can make such a difference to quality of life and Parkinson’s progression. With appropriate management, you can carry on living well and have a productive life. I am still a practicing dentist, who enjoys swimming, walking, and Kung Fu. I also still love doing my crochet!”

Article originally appeared on Hearing Review

A 12-week music program is helping deaf and hard-of-hearing children learn to optimize their hearing aids and cochlear implants, by teaching them to better understand the sounds they detect.

The program, developed by Dr. Chi Yhun Lo from Macquarie University, helps the children to extract meaningful information, such as separating noise from what they want to hear, a skill that is critical to their education and emotional development.

“Deafness is often seen as a barrier to engagement with music,” says Chi. “On the contrary, music actually is an excellent way to improve the problems associated with hearing loss.”

For children with recently acquired cochlear implants or hearing aids, the world can be a confusingly noisy place. The devices do not teach them how to pick out the signal in the noise—their teacher’s voice in the classroom, or their friend’s voice in a noisy playground.

But group music lessons and app-based home activities in which children sing, dance, play instruments and become involved in games like “guess the instrument” helps them sort out different types of sounds.

Chi’s research, published earlier this year, found that such music groups boosted the children’s general capacity to learn, as well as their emotional health.

Originally a musician and audio engineer for events like the Sydney Festival, Chi now uses his skills to understand speech and hearing better.

“Professional musicians are excellent listeners,” says Chi. “We’re trained to identify subtle changes in tone, pitch and timbre, all the things which make up the rich character of a sound.”

The program was inspired by Chi’s previous research, which found that music training helps people with cochlear implants understand “prosody” or the rhythms of stress and intonations which are critical to detecting emotion in voice, or figuring out whether something is a question or a statement.

“My study shows that music training is particularly helpful, as it teaches kids to pick up quick and detailed changes in sound,” says Chi. “It was heartening to see rapid improvements in our students’ social wellbeing—improved peer relationships and emotional regulation, as well as a drop in anxiety and depression.”

The development of the program was supported by the Shepherd Centre, a specialist service for children with hearing loss. Ingrid Steyns, principal manager of clinical learning, says the Centre recognizes the value of music in intervention and listening skill development.

“The benefit of music for children with hearing loss is such a valuable and important area for research, and the evidence-based information that comes from the development of tools such as these helps us to support the full development of each deaf child,” says Ingrid.

“The Shepherd Centre has supported the translation of the outcomes from this project into clinical practice and building knowledge of the importance of these skills in training programs for professionals working with children and young people with hearing loss.”

Trudy Smith from NextSense Institute, which offers continuing professional education in sensory disability, says the program affirmed for her that music is a necessary part of every child’s program—not just those with hearing.

“The scientific rigor of the program gives us confidence in the effectiveness of music therapy on speech perception skills and social development for children who are deaf or hard of hearing,” says Trudy.

Article originally appeared on Medical Xpress

Tinnitus was significantly associated with pre-existing primary open-angle glaucoma, researchers reported in the Journal of Glaucoma.

“The underlying mechanism relating glaucoma and tinnitus is not exactly clear,” Tung-Mei Kuang, MD, PhD, of the department of ophthalmology at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan, and colleagues wrote. “Vascular dysregulation is one possible common pathway. Although POAG [primary open-angle glaucoma] is multifactorial, and a clear pathophysiology is not established, it has been suggested that the glaucomatous ganglion cell damage is caused, at least in part, by chronic impairment of blood supply to the optic nerve head.”

Seeking to better understand the association between POAG and tinnitus, Kuang and colleagues conducted a population-based, case-control study using data from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database. Participants were predominantly of Han-Chinese ethnicity and included 542,682 with tinnitus (mean age, 55 years; 43% men) and 1,628,046 controls.

Of 2,170,728 total participants, 85,257 had POAG before the index date of tinnitus, 25,506 were patients with tinnitus, and 56,761 were controls (P < .001). Overall, researchers determined that about 30% of patients with tinnitus were more likely to have pre-existing POAG than controls.

The study also showed tinnitus was significantly associated with hearing loss (P < .001), hyperlipidemia (< .001), rheumatoid arthritis (P = .005) and idiopathic intracranial hypertension (< .001).

“[Eye care providers] should be aware of this association, and further studies are needed to understand the underlying mechanisms,” the authors concluded.

Article originally appeared on Healio

Air bubbles trapped in a woman’s inner ear caused her to develop severe dizziness, seemingly out of nowhere, and she required surgery to make the disorienting, spinning sensation go away.

The 51-year-old woman initially went to the doctor after experiencing this strange spinning sensation for about 24 hours, according to a report of the case published Thursday (April 21) in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. In addition to feeling as though the room were spinning around her, the woman reported that she felt an unusual blockage or pressure in her right ear and was also experiencing right-sided hearing loss.

The doctors performed a physical examination of the woman’s right ear, but they found no abnormalities. The team then ran the patient through a common test for vertigo, called the Dix-Hallpike test, and found that she exhibited the telltale twitchy eye movements that are often associated with such dizziness.

As an initial treatment, the doctors led the patient through an exercise designed to treat one of the most common forms of vertigo, known as “benign paroxysmal positional vertigo” (BPPV). This condition occurs when tiny crystals inside the inner ear become dislodged from their normal position, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. These crystals, or “ear stones,” typically sit inside a sac-like organ in the ear that detects changes in the head’s orientation, but when the ear stones detach from this organ, they can trigger sensations of dizziness. An exercise called the Epley maneuver can move the ear stones back into their proper place, but in the woman’s case, the exercise didn’t help.

Article originally appeared on Live Science