If you’ve started to experience hearing loss, you may be tempted to view it as simply a minor inconvenience. Aside from having to make minor adjustments like turning up the TV or occasionally asking people to repeat themselves, you may think that a loss of hearing doesn’t affect your life too much. However, research has shown that not only does a hearing loss negatively affect your quality of life, it can also be connected to several serious health issues.
Treating a hearing loss early may be the key to limiting the impact that a hearing problem has on these physical and mental health conditions:
- Cognitive function. Research has shown that even a mild hearing loss that is left untreated could affect the brain’s ability to process speech. A loss of hearing requires you to put more effort into perceiving and understanding sounds and speech. That takes mental energy away from other tasks, such as storing things into your memory or actually making sense of what you are hearing. A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis found that people with hearing loss had less gray matter in the area of the brain that controls speech comprehension. When stimulation of this area of the brain is reduced due to hearing problems, it could lead to diminished brain function.
- Risk of falling. People between the ages of 40 and 69 with a mild hearing loss have a higher risk of falling, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University. Researchers suspect that when additional mental resources are required to compensate for hearing loss, balance and gait could be negatively affected.
- More frequent hospitalizations. Older adults with hearing loss were found to be 32 percent more likely to be hospitalized with illness or injury than people with normal hearing, according to another Johns Hopkins study. They were also 36 percent more likely to have an illness or injury that lasted longer than 10 days.
- Depression. Several studies have uncovered a link between hearing loss and depression. Seniors with hearing loss had a 57 percent higher chance of experiencing depression, bad moods, or deep episodes of stress, according to more research from Johns Hopkins.
- Dementia. Older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop dementia over time than those with normal hearing, according to research by Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging. A separate study also found that seniors with hearing loss have more difficulty thinking and remembering than adults with normal hearing.
Additional research has uncovered connections between hearing loss and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. While we can’t say for certain that treating hearing loss prevents any of these health conditions or lowers the risk of falling, treating hearing loss “may minimize those risks and helps us be our best, no matter what our age,” says Tim Steele, Ph.D., FAAA, president of Associated Audiologists, Inc. If you have started to notice a loss of hearing, don’t wait until it becomes a major problem. Contact Associated Audiologists today to find out how our doctoral-level audiologists can help restore your hearing and keep you tuned in to life.