The Hearing Center has specialized in the medical treatment of hearing loss for over 30 years in Orangeburg and has since added the services of a certified dementia practitioner to explore its link to loss of cognitive functioning.
“We’re looking at a wider range of a person’s hearing because we understand so much more now. It’s not just the fact that the person has hearing loss that’s causing them difficulty understanding people, but it’s a lack of stimulation going to the brain,” said Chas Haynes, owner of the Hearing Center.
Heather Frierson, who started in the office as a receptionist in 2011, is a hearing care professional who has since successfully completed the requirements to become a Certified Dementia Practitioner through the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners, or NCCDP.
Haynes said Frierson’s expertise was needed, especially since untreated hearing loss is the number one modifiable risk factor for dementia.
“There is not a single part of the brain that this auditory mechanism does not send stimulation to. It literally affects every part of the brain. With the lack of stimulation, it just affects the brain in general. It’s a bit like if you stay in bed for a long time, your muscles start to atrophy,” he said.
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Haynes continued, “With the lack of stimulation, the brain doesn’t exactly atrophy, but it’s a similar situation. In MRIs and such, you can actually see a person’s brain shrinking, and hearing loss can be a big contributor to that because it’s just one more thing where they’re just not getting that stimulation.
Frierson said: “Even if you put on earplugs or hearing protection, you can still hear. It’s muffled and there are things you can do to shield yourself from loud sounds, but nothing completely shuts that off. Severe hearing loss would obviously do that, but other than something biological, there’s no way to turn it off. Sound is what our brain is used to even before we are born, and a stimulation of this sound is received by the brain.
Haynes said, “So we’re really starting to realize and understand how the lack of stimulation that just goes to all the different parts of the brain really affects things like cognitive decline that leads to dementia and that sort of thing.”
Frierson said The Hearing Center doesn’t just deal with hearing aids.
“We do hearing tests, and our tests are a little more thorough than your average hearing test that you would have like in an ENT practice. … We try to understand more than what appears on the graph,” she said.
Frierson continued, “We look at how a person’s hearing affects their understanding of speech. We look at how their hearing affects their ability to understand what people are saying when there is no other noise or when they are in a noisy environment.
“We look at things like: do they have ringing in their ears? Are they showing early signs of cognitive decline?
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Haynes stressed that the center does not treat dementia, but rather the hearing loss that may contribute to it.
“We treat hearing loss, but now we see hearing loss from a different perspective in that we see it as…one of the main risk factors for dementia. it’s about trying to eliminate one of those risk factors. It’s actually the biggest modifiable risk factor that leads to dementia,” he said.
Haynes continued: “I don’t want people to think, ‘Hey, if I have dementia, we can go there and they can help with dementia. We don’t do that. We’re trying to eliminate the biggest modifiable risk factor that leads to it.
Frierson said: “There are many other risk factors. Untreated hearing loss often leads to problems such as social isolation, anxiety and depression. All of these things are also risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia.
“So treating hearing loss is the most important thing you can do to help prevent cognitive decline, but it also helps prevent these other things that can also contribute even more to cognitive decline.”
She continued, “It’s all so connected. We just want to make sure that this part of the hearing loss is also treated appropriately for patients who are at risk for these types of situations.
Frierson said a hearing test is provided free of charge at the Hearing Center.
“It can’t hurt to get it tested and see where you stand. … We recommend that if you’re over 55, you should have your hearing tested every year, whether you think you have a hearing loss or not,” she said.
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Haynes said: “We’ve known for a long time that the earlier we can treat someone’s hearing loss, the better it will be for their hearing in the long run. Now, when you add all the cognitive decline, it really becomes imperative.
Frierson said: “And a lot of that is not reversible. Once your brain begins to shrink and these neural connections are lost, they often cannot be restored. So you are trying to prevent further decline. If people were aware and got treatment as soon as possible, we might be able to prevent it from starting to decline.
A person’s medical history is reviewed before any type of test.
“So if they have dizziness and headaches, we’re going to make a referral to make sure those things are addressed if they aren’t already,” Frierson said.
“And then if we have a patient coming in and it looks like things are weaker from the cognitive tests and things like that…we can ask, ‘Well, have you talked to your doctor about it? treating? Would you like to be referred to a neurologist or another type of specialist? “, she said.
“We obviously cannot diagnose a type of dementia or anything like that. … We would just like to make sure that they are addressed from all angles and not just left out to move things forward without anyone doing anything,” Frierson said.
Contact the writer: [email protected] or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD