Did you know that your ears can be a window to your mind and to the rest of your body? Many people are surprised to learn that hearing problems may be an indication of potentially serious health issues, such as depression, cognitive decline, heart disease, vision loss, or diabetes. In fact, because hearing loss is not usually an issue that stops us in our tracks, or sends us to the emergency room, many times we tend to put off addressing it as a significant healthcare concern. However, with an estimated 48 million Americans experiencing some level of hearing loss, it’s truly important that we include a full hearing exam as part of our on annual check-up.

Studies suggest that cognitive abilities decline faster in older adults with hearing loss than in those with normal hearing. Research indicates that the risk for dementia is closely related to the severity of hearing loss in people over 60. Many people will live with a hearing loss for some time before realizing what is going on. Others may notice the hearing loss but avoid seeking treatment. Denial of a hearing loss can result in feelings of anxiety and depression and those with hearing problems experience these symptoms more than the general population.

It’s not uncommon for people experiencing hearing loss to gradually withdraw from challenging environments where they must work to hear — and understand — words. It can be especially troubling when trying to distinguish sounds that come from different directions. Hearing problems can affect a person’s ability to work effectively or go about daily activities. It can diminish enjoyment of hobbies or social activities. It can cause difficulty hearing on the phone, watching tv, or even hearing the doorbell at home. And, perhaps most importantly, it can isolate you from family and friends.

Hearing actually takes place in your brain, not in your ears. Since your brain is different from anyone else’s, your hearing also is decidedly unique. As well, understanding what we are hearing is more important that just turning up the sound, so simple amplification alone is seldom the answer. Once a person takes the first step and gets a hearing examination, a hearing specialist, an Audiologist, can suggest solutions tailored to the individuals specific hearing loss and lifestyle.

In recent years, much focus in healthcare has been placed on treating the whole person. This means paying attention to our hearing can be as important as any other health interventions toward maintaining a good mental health and a life that is healthy and happy. Including a hearing professional in our own healthcare team, can help us be proactive and allows for information to be shared between healthcare professionals to ensure that we get to the root cause of a hearing difficulty, address any mental health symptoms and find the best options for treatment. Working together, trusted professionals can help ensure your best physical and mental health. It’s about more than your hearing. It’s about your life.

Jill Sheppard has worked in the hearing healthcare industry for more than 18 years. She earned a BSin Speech- Language Pathology/Audiology from the University of Texas at Dallas and is a licensed Fitter and Dispenser of Hearing Instruments. Jill is co-owner of Hearcare, Inc., in Sherman, Texas. he views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.