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Health Risks of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can affect mental health, physical health, and even your financial well-being! Whether you’re at risk yourself or you’re caring for someone who has trouble hearing, it’s important to be aware of the causes of hearing loss and dangers of leaving it untreated.

Facts About Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition (after arthritis and high blood pressure) among people 75 and older. In fact, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than two thirds of people over the age of 70 have some form of hearing loss.

There are different kinds of hearing loss. Those that are due to medication side effects or illness are often curable. It is important to identify and treat this kind as soon as possible.

Hearing loss due to long-term noise exposure and age-related hearing loss are not curable and they cannot be reversed. Although age-related hearing loss is more common in women, men are almost twice as likely to experience hearing loss, usually caused by noise exposure.

Age-related hearing loss occurs gradually. You might not be aware it’s happening or think it’s just a normal part of aging. You might not think any hearing loss is serious, but the fallout can be severe. Consider this: People with untreated hearing loss (that is, they don’t wear hearing aids) may earn thousands less than those who hear! But when it treated (such as with hearing aids), the difference in wages is reduced by about half.

Untreated hearing loss also carries mental and behavioral health risks, and can increase your risk for injury, falling, and even some diseases.

Mental Health Risks

Inability to hear, especially to hear speech, can cause serious mental anguish. Hearing loss affects memory and thinking. It may lead to cognitive impairment, including dementia, and result in social isolation, depression, and anxiety. It can also lead to decreased quality of life and affect relationships. Left untreated, hearing loss:

  • Is associated with increased depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. Hearing loss can increase the risk for depression, anxiety, and paranoia. Johns Hopkins researchers found that those with hearing loss are 57% more likely to be deeply stressed, depressed, or in a bad mood for more than 10 days.
  • Increases social isolation. When you can’t hear, you may dread social events because you have trouble understanding or following conversations. You may feel frustrated or angry, and eventually give up or avoid conversation or even being around people.  You may feel left out or isolated, and even come to avoid interactions like ordering food or asking questions of a sales clerk.
  • Increases risk for dementia. The latest research from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute on Aging showed that older adults with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing, and that the risks of developing dementia increased with the severity of hearing loss. As we age, our brains shrink, but in people with hearing loss, this shrinking occurs faster. Researchers at Harvard University think this may be because the parts of the brain most often affected by dementia are also used to process and understand speech. The longer you live with hearing loss, the more your brain loses the ability to process and understand sound.

Physical Health Risks

Hearing loss increases cognitive load—that is, your brain has to work harder to hear words and sounds, so you have less brain power for other tasks (such as walking or maintaining balance).

Hearing loss increases the risk of injury.

Those with impaired hearing might be less aware of their environment, so they may not hear a car’s horn or a shouted warning, or be able to tell which direction a danger is coming from. Hearing loss also increases risk for tripping or falling. Johns Hopkins and NIA researchers found that those with mild (25dB) hearing loss were three times more likely to fall, and the risk increases with every 10dB loss.

Noise exposure may increase health risks due to stress.

Chronic noise exposure, such using loud tools on a job or living in a noisy environment, is linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and other health problems.

What to Do About Hearing Loss

If you suspect hearing loss in yourself or a loved one, the first step is to be screened by a certified audiologist, who can test hearing, identify causes, and explain treatment options.

A certified audiologist can also help you select the best hearing aids for your needs and your budget, and can work with you to fit and adjust them properly. Be aware that adjustment may take a few follow-up appointments. Some experts say it can take as many as 10 visits to get a hearing aid adjusted so it’s perfect for you.