Kate Dekok, chief audiologist at ListenUP! Canada, asserts that excessive noise levels are a key factor in age-related hearing loss. “We live in such a noisy world,” she says. “It’s not very common for us to be in a very quiet space for any extended period of time.”

In addition to noise in the work environment, she credits “the sirens and traffc around us, the hustle and bustle of life, the music we listen to and ear-level devices” with pumping up the volume of modern life. Monitoring noise levels, protecting your ears or just unplugging your audio gadgets to give your ears a much-needed rest may slow hearing loss but unfortunately, aging is inevitable.

"While no device can restore lost hearing, the right device can greatly improve it."

According to The Hearing Foundation of Canada, over half of Canadians over 65 experience hearing loss. An increase in noise-induced hearing loss in teenagers also worries Dekok. She cites an American Medical Association study conducted two years ago that “attributed [the trend] to the fact that we have more ear-level devices and that kids are tuned in at earlier ages.” As with the rest of the human body, over time, the ears show signs of wear and tear.

With age and the impact of noise, the tiny but essential hair cells that vibrate and send signals to your brain begin to break. “Thankfully, we have thousands of hair cells so we can lose some without noticing too much of a problem,” Dekok says. “But, the more you lose, the less fine-tuned things sound. That hearing loss is permanent and, for the most part, irreversible.”

Irreversible but not untreatable

For many people, innovations like open-fit hearing aids have put an end to the days of strapping on an unwieldy, unattractive beige device that plugs up the ear. “Many clients will be pleasantly surprised at what hearing aids look like,” Dekok says. She describes an open- fit hearing aid as a small, light- weight device “that sits on top of the ear and comes in a wide variety of colours.”

A wire only slightly thicker than a stray hair drops down over the ear. “It’s very, very discreet and, because these hearing aids don’t plug up the ear, the sound is more natural.” While no device can restore lost hearing, the right device can greatly improve it. Dekok also mentions Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid technology that routes cell phone conversations to both ears. Devices that make watching TV with loved ones possible “are really quite slick and straightforward to use,” she says.

To ensure that gradual hearing loss is not eroding your quality of life, Dekok encourages people to see a qualified audiologist or Hearing Instrument Specialist. “Often people don’t come in to see us until there’s quite a significant hearing loss.” She recommends that adults, ideally over the age of 40 but certainly those over 50, have their hearing verified every couple of years.