The Impact Oregon’s Air Quality Is Having On Cognitive Health And What We’re Doing About It

Aug 10, 2021 | News, Patient Resources

Oregon State is facing a real environmental challenge right now.

Year on year, the fire season has been starting earlier and lasting longer, and the smoke from the wildfires is seriously impacting the air. This impact is causing sudden fluctuations in air quality, meaning we can easily go from great to toxic very suddenly.

As you would expect, changes to our air quality poses some serious health risks, as air pollution is a prominent modifiable risk to our cognitive health.

That said, at Audiology & Hearing Aid Associates, we feel it’s our duty to inform our patients of these risks whilst also doing what we can to best help you when air pollution is particularly bad.

Why Does The Quality Of The Air Affect Cognitive Health?

Our cognitive health is measured by our brain’s ability to function properly.

We know that hearing loss is the number one modifiable risk factor for cognitive changes, but air pollution is also a massive one too.

In fact, air pollution is regarded as the largest single environmental risk to health overall, contributing to increased risks of cerebrovascular (blood flow to the brain), coronary artery disease, lung carcinoma, and acute respiratory diseases.

In addition to this, long-term exposure to air pollution, which has a high percentage of nitrogen dioxide, has been associated with dementia.

This means that the higher the air pollution and the more we breathe it in, the higher the risk of cognitive malfunctions.

Last year in Oregon state, the wildfires were so bad that we couldn’t see Mount Emily through the haze.

As many people don’t have central air conditioning systems in their homes (myself included) and instead rely on opening windows at night to cool down, the thick smoke in the air is potentially making this very unsafe.

What Can You Do To Protect Yourself From Oregon’s Air Pollution?

The best thing you can do is download the Oregon Air App, which is a real-time air quality index for our state; it tells you exactly what the air quality is in any given location, ranging from good to hazardous.

If you get into a habit of checking it regularly, it’ll help you know where in the state is safe and where is best avoided in real-time.

It’ll also help you plan journeys, when necessary, arrange alternative routes, and of course, help you determine whether it’s safe for you to go out at all.

Air-Pollution Friendly Appointments At Audiology & Hearing Aid Associates

As a team, we are all very aware of the significant risks venturing out into toxic, smoke-ridden air can have on our patients’ health, which is why, when the air quality is bad, we have a process in place whereby we will gladly switch your in-person appointment to a remote session, should you wish.

Switching to a remote session is very easy, and you can either call us or use this form to schedule it yourself, or if the air quality is particularly bad on the days leading up to your appointment, we will call you to let you know the remote session is an available alternative.

If you do decide to come into our office for your appointment, then please be aware that we do not have a waiting room, so please call us as soon as you arrive so we can get you straight into your room, which has air purifiers to keep the air clean.

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Erika Shakespeare CCC-A

Erika Shakespeare, CCC-A, specializes in pediatric and adult diagnostics and amplification. Working with adults to help manage tinnitus and hearing loss since 2002, she is an expert in both of these areas. Additionally, she is a pediatric audiology mentor and educator for pediatric audiologists across the country and is one of the most respected experts on pediatric audiology.

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    Erika’s Story

    I’m Erika. I love learning about new technology, particularly with technology designed to help people hear and connect to their families, friends and community. I first learned about the Jabra Enhance Plus 18 months ago in a tech talk related to OTC hearing aids. OTC stands for “over-the-counter”; this was driven by the PCAST report (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) that was published in 2016 and was rejuvenated by Biden’s Executive to the FDA to develop regulations and labeling on a new classification of non-prescription hearing aids that would be available to purchase by consumers without professional engagement.

    The purpose was to introduce lower cost entry to hearing aids for consumers. This is opening a whole new pipeline of devices from manufacturers of consumer electronics to manufacturers of medical devices to get into the lucrative market of entry level amplification. Bose had launched their new “hearing aid” which was a terrible flop, it didn’t have rechargeability, it had a ton of feedback (whistling), it didn’t even have basic streaming features. Signia launched a product, Apple Air pods added transparency mode and developed an app to “test” your hearing to apply mild gain to your Air Pod Pros, and Resound’s research team partnered with GN’s consumer electronic group that makes Jabra products to develop a hybrid hearing aid/consumer electronic sometimes referred to as a Hearable, PSAP (Personal Sound Amplifier), or and OTC hearing aid. Other companies have come out with products that they are marketing as hearing aids, the FDA has been playing whack-a-mole with these illegally labeled products. Whatever you may call the widget, it is an electronic device that is not programmed by a licensed hearing health care professional.

    I was awarded a slot to participate in a pilot project to evaluate the Jabra Enhance Plus product before it was released commercially to the public. I have been wearing the device for the last 10 days. I have about 4 pages of feedback for the developers for the app and also the device itself. Here is my pro/con list.

    Pros: The size and fit. It doesn’t look anything like a hearing aid, it is like a small button Bluetooth or wireless earbud. There is nothing hanging out of the ear to catch on masks. The green, faded yellow and red indicator lights on the device and the charger are intuitive ways to alert to battery life. The little charging case holds a charge even when it is not plugged in. It is easily portable, fits great in a pocket of my purse so I have them with me. The streaming is pretty seamless. The app controls are deceivingly simple, it seems like there should be more, but it is really just the volume up and down. They were a lot more comfortable to wear while reclining and listening to streaming audio than other wireless earbuds that I have used. It was easy to switch to a call while streaming. They enhanced listening when I was watching TV.

    Cons: The built-in personalization didn’t seem to customize the sound; The filter setting was something that I wanted to change frequently, but it is a buried feature in the app. The fit was sort of uncomfortable in one ear and the selection of domes were not adequate. The occlusion effect for my own body noises was significant. My voice sounded too far away for people on the other end of the phone call. The sound quality for phone calls and streaming audio was inferior to other wireless earbuds that I use. I struggled in noisy situations to hear other people over my own body sounds. They move a lot in my ears with talking. They don’t connect to my computer, so going between zoom meetings and phone calls or other activities was cumbersome and I have to switch devices. My overall assessment is that there is a place in the consumer electronic world for these cute little hearing enhancers, but they will not yet replace my wireless earbuds. I look forward to future software updates that will hopefully improve and expand usability (like connecting to my PC for zoom calls).

    Tom’s Story
    Tom was not as happy as Donna after his 10 days with the devices. He much preferred his own hearing aids. He did like that his mask never got caught on them. His biggest issue was that he got whistling from them when he turned them up loud enough for him to hear the TV. He did enjoy the streaming capabilities. He struggled the most with pairing the devices, which may have been because he used his Bluetooth a lot for other things and the Jabra devices did not seem to respond well to intermittent connectivity.
    Donna’s Story
    Donna wore the devices for 10-12 hours everyday for ten days. She loved how much better she heard in group settings and in conversations with friends and family. She mentioned that after a long day she did notice that her ears would get a little sore and she thought maybe a smaller prescription hearing aid would be better for her long term, but she thought these self fitting hearing aids were great and easy to use. She would definitely consider buying them and even had several of her friends ask where they could buy them.
    Linda’s Story

    Linda wore the Jabra Enhance Plus 5-6 hours a day. Mostly while watching TV. She loved how much easier it was to hear the dialogue on TV. She also enjoyed hearing her husband more easily while they were having conversations. She had little difficulty connecting the devices to her app, the most difficult part of the connection that Linda had was remembering her apple password. She was really impressed with the product and the price.

    Beth Story

    Beth wears the Jabra Enhance Plus about an hour a day, primarily for streaming while exercising. She loves the quality of the streaming for phone calls and listening to audio books. She tried the devices in a restaurant with friends, but really struggled to adapt to her own voice and thought that it was actually harder to focus on the voices she wanted to hear over some of the other environment sounds being amplified. She really didn’t find them helpful in the classroom like she had hoped, but she admitted that only tried them once in that setting.

    Jan’s Story
    I'm Jan. I have enjoyed being part of this new technology. After day two I did experience right ear canal discomfort and was not able to wear the device for a few days. I feel if the device was a little bit smaller it would be more comfortable for me. I felt muffled and my own voice was hollow. After a few days I didn't notice it as much. I am not totally comfortable with new technology but found the setup for Jabra to be easy. The charging was easy, and the hearing test was relatively easy. I have normal hearing, therefore did not experience a lot of amplification. I found the app was user friendly. I would recommend them to someone who had a mild to moderate hearing loss that could not afford hearing aids.