At the turn of the 20th century, the average American lived only 47 years. Today, average lifespan in the U.S. is nearly 79 years. Clearly, years have been added to life; the real question is — are we keeping pace in adding quality of life to those years?
Most people want to live well, not just long. So how do we stack the odds in favor of maximizing quality of life? If we want our bodies to serve us well for the long-term, then it helps to start early and be proactive in how we care for them. Embracing the concepts of early intervention and comprehensive preventive care are key elements of such a strategy, but there are often gaps in obtaining such care.
Taking smart steps to promote good health and address potential issues sooner rather than later is one way we can make strides in enhancing our well-being in the present and in the future. In recent years, people have become far more aware of the importance of self-care behaviors, such as sleep, nutrition and exercise. Similarly, health care has placed more emphasis on annual physicals and screenings.
Interestingly, this evolution of care has not unfolded with an equivalent focus across specialties. While it might now be common to monitor for changes in things like blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol so early action can be taken when concerning changes are discovered, that is not necessarily the case with other health parameters of relevance to well-being.
The impact of regular balance and hearing screenings has slowly permeated the medical world in recent years, but recommendations to seek care are still highly dependent on individual providers’ philosophies. From a patient perspective, changes in balance or hearing are easy to ignore because often the onset is gradual, so changes in function are easily missed and treatment is then delayed.
As in so many health-related matters, early treatment of balance and/or hearing dysfunction yields better long-term outcomes and positively influences quality of life along the way. Conversely, when these deficits remain undetected, neglected and untreated, it often takes longer to successfully treat them and quality of life is negatively affected in numerous and insidious ways.
One indicator that can alert you if your balance, hearing or movement functional capabilities are compromised is if you have a reduced ability to participate in things that are meaningful to you. Many of our patients wait longer than they should to seek treatment, not because they don’t want care, but because they didn’t realize how much they were really affected, or that help was even available.
Too many people are hurt by a culture that still chalks a number of life-disrupting health matters up to “just getting older” or assumes that we “just have to live with” things that are perceived as age-related changes. Whether it is treatment for hearing loss, vestibular concerns (like dizziness, vertigo or imbalance), or joint pain (such as shoulder, back, hip or knee), help is available, and quality, early intervention is a key variable in achieving the best possible outcome and getting back to the things you love doing in life.
At Greylock Audiology and FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Center in Pittsfield, we have a highly trained team that is uniquely equipped to assist patients with balance, hearing and movement-related concerns. Dr. Andrew Puttick founded the practice with the specific goal of offering comprehensive care that exceeds most people’s perceptions or prior experience with audiology or physical therapy.
Dr. Puttick’s 18 years of providing hearing health services to the Berkshires have given him insight into how the isolation of different specialties can contribute to the underserving of patient needs. In the course of working with an ear, nose and throat physician for 14 years, he saw first-hand that patients with dizziness, vertigo and other balance impairments were suffering greatly and often returned frustrated, after being referred out and receiving care that wasn’t effective for them.
That meant that those patients were not only dealing with ongoing symptoms that disrupted their lives, but that they also remained at an increased risk of falls and other injuries related to balance deficits. How does this relate to audiology? The inner ear, or vestibular system, controls our hearing and balance, but it does not neatly fit into a single specialty. Dr. Puttick recognized this treatment obstacle and chose to combine audiology and physical therapy services in one location.
Based on how intricately related hearing and balance are, they can often be affected at the same time. As a result, physical therapist Dr. Trevor Marcotte was recruited to join the practice in 2017. The elite vestibular training that he combines with his extensive orthopedic training means that Greylock Audiology and FYZICAL Pittsfield are able to help a previously underserved population of patients who need coordinated treatment of their hearing, balance and orthopedic physical therapy concerns.
Like so many things in the body, these issues often interrelate to a far greater extent than people imagine. That is why many of the practice’s patients become ‘crossover’ patients. They may start out reporting a hearing concern, and find that they would benefit from vestibular rehabilitation, or start out reporting a balance concern, and then find there was a contributing undetected audiological issue. Similarly, balance or dizziness issues can have musculoskeletal contributing factors that need treatment.
How does all of this relate to early intervention? Research shows that when you experience decreases in health-related function over time, social disconnection and disengagement can become real threats, as well. Whether the initial issue is related to hearing, balance or mobility, people tend to wait until such problems become debilitating before seeking help. That can lead to further negative long-term consequences, such as social isolation, falls, mood disturbances and even cognitive decline.
Current hearing research suggests that individuals with hearing loss who do not seek treatment are more likely to experience cognitive decline with age than their normal hearing peers or peers who improve their hearing ability with hearing aids. Yet, age-related hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic condition in older adults, and many do not seek treatment. Others mistakenly believe that hearing loss is only a problem of the elderly, when occupational and leisure time noise exposure can lead to hearing loss at earlier ages. Similarly, untreated dizziness, vertigo or other balance or mobility impairments increase fall risk, and falls can contribute to negative health outcomes in numerous ways.
Even with the best intentions, human nature can nudge us into a pattern of waiting for smaller problems to become bigger ones before we act. Yet, if we want to boost our capability to enjoy life’s greatest moments on an enduring basis, we need to develop routines that comprehensively support and nurture well-being throughout the lifespan by maximizing healthspan. The team at Greylock Audiology and FYZICAL Therapy and Balance Center Pittsfield is passionate about helping people do just that.
Please call 413-443-4800 to speak to a member of our team.