You can make small choices for one of your senses that make a major difference in how long you live and your quality of life: keeping your hearing. 

International researchers recently published a study in The Lancet that shows one in three cases of dementia could be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle and being aware of some of the early warning signs – such as mid-life hearing loss – that you might not immediately associate with cognitive decline. For the 16 million people in the United States living with cognitive impairment, that means more than 5 million of them could have dodged the decline. 

One issue leading to major problems for many with hearing loss is they isolate themselves. But there is no need, as many hearing aid types are available, some invisible. 

One preventative step is to get your hearing tested. If it is lacking, get help and keep trying different hearing aids until you find a set that works for you. Then, stay involved with people – volunteer, reach out to friends and neighbors and continue your education – that’ll build cognitive reserve. Do that, and you may cut your chances of developing dementia by 30 percent. 

Talking about ears reminds me of something I see every day: ears clogged with wax. For an appropriate analogy to understand the importance of ear health, consider a basset hound. Its ears act like side brooms, sweeping up scents along the ground. That’s why bassets, along with their cousins, bloodhounds and coonhounds, are such champion sniffers. One problem, however, is because the dogs’ ears are so close to the ground, they need to be cleaned at least once a week, but never using a cotton swab or pointy objects. Soft cloths and soapy water will do.

Treat yours and your kids’ ears like a hound dog’s and teach the kids how to treat their own ears too. According to The Ohio State University researchers, every day an average of 34 children under 18 are treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for ear injuries related to use of cotton tipped swabs. Around 77 percent occur when a child is using a cotton-tipped applicator. 

The most common injuries are pushing ear wax further into the ear so it becomes impacted and damages the ear drum – which can cause hearing loss. 

True, occasionally ear wax does become too much of a good thing, making it hard to hear or feeling uncomfortable. Then, you need to see your doctor to get it safely flushed out. To hear about the right way to clean your ears, Google “the right way to clean your ears Dr. Oz Show.” 

So don’t disrespect your ears. Keep the maximum level on earphones and other devices below the two-thirds maximum point, too. You’ll live smarter and longer. 

Dr. Michael Roizen writes about wellness for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Follow him in Twitter @DrMikeRoizen.‏

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