Hearing Loss Affects More than Your Ears

Hearing Loss Affects More than Your Ears

In Brain Health, Health, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Mental Health, News, Overall Health, Research by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Recent studies have found that many older adults neglect their hearing as the years go by. Indeed, there are many personal reasons for avoiding hearing loss treatment. Perhaps some find it to be an inconvenience to attend to their hearing loss. Others may feel embarrassed by their inability to hear things unassisted. Still others simply don’t want to get older, and the sight of hearing aids makes them appear more elderly than they feel inside.

Whatever the reason, some people would rather pretend that they do not have hearing loss rather than seeking treatment for hearing loss. Hearing protection can be considered preventative medicine for hearing ability in the later years, but protection can only go so far. Those who have already experienced some degree of hearing loss will likely find that they are in need of assistance to be able to function easily in their daily lives and at social events.

The Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss

The effects of untreated hearing loss are not limited to the ability to communicate and move easily through the world. On the contrary, hearing loss has been associated with a wide range of other health problems, only adding to the urgency to receive assistance with hearing when it becomes necessary. A large study recently published in the journal JAMA OtolaryngologyHead & Neck Surgery demonstrated that hearing loss was associated with a wide range of other health problems, including injuries, depression, and even dementia. The study used data from 200,000 people over the age of 50 who had experienced hearing loss for at least two years. The study found that those who did not use assistance such as hearing aids were much more likely to have these other health problems, as well.

In the first case, hearing loss may be related to injuries from falling, including bone fractures and sprains. As we know, these injuries are increasingly detrimental in older age, taking more time to heal and leading to other health complications. Although the study did not specify, some speculate that the correlation between hearing loss and injuries from falling down might have to do with the inability to orient to one’s surroundings. Our ears are important to our spatial movement, and compromised hearing might lead to unexpected errors in our movements through space.

In the second case, hearing loss has been related to depression, and researchers postulate that the connection has to do with the feeling of isolation among those who have hearing loss. Without an easy process of communication, many with hearing loss become increasingly anxious about upcoming social encounters. They worry that they will not be able to hear what others say and that it might lead to embarrassing incidents of misunderstanding. This anxiety can lead some people with hearing loss to avoid social engagement, snowballing into isolation and depression.

The connection with the final condition—dementia—is even more mysterious to researchers. Though the study was not able to describe the cause-and-effect relationship between the two conditions of hearing loss and dementia, some speculate that the relationship has to do with the inability to hear and understand speech. When people with untreated hearing loss carry on conversations, they are faced with a puzzle of meaning. Rather than flowing words and sentences, they only pick up random sounds, phonemes, and jumbles of consonants from which they must piece together something meaningful. This process is quite taxing on the mind and can lead to mistaken meanings, as well. By trying to grasp at context clues and reconfigured sounds arranged for the intended meaning, the mind simply becomes overwhelmed. Researchers wonder if this cognitive load can extend to other problems putting together meaning, including dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, the social isolation that comes from untreated hearing loss is a risk factor for developing dementia.

Visit Us at South Shore Hearing Center

With such devastating health risks associated with hearing loss, there is no time better than the present to visit us at South Shore Hearing Center for a hearing test. If you are in need of hearing assistance, the risk of health problems or injuries is simply too great to avoid using hearing aids any longer. You may be able to prevent these related medical conditions by addressing your hearing loss today! Contact us to schedule an appointment.