Most people think of hearing loss as simply the inability to hear well. Maybe they miss a few words in conversation or misunderstand the punch line of a joke, or they might turn the television up a little louder. Unfortunately, though, there are other hidden consequences of hearing loss that might not be immediately apparent – though they’re more concerning.
Several studies have documented the impact of untreated hearing loss. A study by the National Council on Aging found individuals with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, paranoia and social withdrawal when compared to people who had hearing loss and used hearing aids. The study looked at the positive benefits of hearing aids and showed hearing aid usage positively affected quality of life, not only for the person wearing hearing aids, but also significant others, family members and caregivers. Other studies found conditions such as depression and decreased social interaction were actually improved with hearing aid usage.
More recent studies by researchers at Johns Hopkins have found a strong link between hearing loss and dementia or cognitive decline. Individuals with mild hearing loss were twice as likely to develop dementia as those with normal hearing, those with moderate loss three times more likely and those with severe loss five times more likely. Other studies found people with hearing loss experienced rates of cognitive decline 30-40 percent faster than people with normal hearing.
Another consequence of hearing loss is mental exhaustion. When people have to struggle to hear certain words or fill in gaps or blanks, it can be tiring. Actively listening and using good communication skills require effort and energy, which is frequently why people with hearing loss describe higher levels of fatigue at the end of the day. This is especially true after participating in meetings or group activities, or if the listener is not feeling well.
Hearing loss can also be a safety concern. People with untreated hearing loss might fail to hear alarm systems, smoke alarms, sirens or other signals to potentially dangerous conditions. They are also more likely to have a history of falling – those with mild hearing loss were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling. The chance of falling increased as the hearing loss worsened.
Hearing loss is not just a trivial inconvenience. It has a number of physical, social and mental consequences. Before it starts, hearing loss can easily be prevented through the use or earplugs or earmuffs, as well as lowering of volume on music players. For the 48 million Americans who already have hearing loss, hearing aids can help, as even mild hearing loss is better treated sooner rather than later. Early evaluation and treatment alleviate the consequences of hearing loss on long-term health and can improve quality of life.
Danielle Combs, MS, CCC-A is a licensed audiologist with The Hearing Center at Holston Valley Medical Center. She provides a full range of comprehensive hearing testing for infants, children, and adults. She also provides the latest technology hearing aids, assistive listening devices, and custom earmolds to meet your hearing healthcare needs.