Hearing loss has a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. The social, psychological, and physical
consequences of hearing loss can take a major toll on a person’s mental and physical health.
People of all ages are affected by hearing loss. It’s one of the most common chronic conditions in the U.S., affecting over nine million Americans over 65 and 10 million Americans between 45 to 64.
Unfortunately, many people who realize their hearing has deteriorated are hesitant to seek help. Only about 16 percent of adults ages 20 to 69 who would benefit from hearing aids have ever used them. Why?
They may be embarrassed about their hearing loss, seeing it as a sign of weakness. Even with advances in technology, the stigma associated with hearing loss still prevents many from seeking treatment. People may also put off getting help because they feel they’re getting by just fine.
The effects of hearing loss, however, go well beyond hearing alone. Here are some serious effects of untreated hearing loss on your everyday life.
Due to their difficulty communicating with others, individuals with hearing loss tend to avoid social situations. In fact, for every decibel drop in hearing sensitivity, the likelihood of social isolation increases by 52 percent.
Those with untreated hearing loss often stop doing things they used to enjoy, mainly because difficulty hearing makes those activities more difficult or less enjoyable. Large groups and noisy venues, for example, can make it hard to engage in conversations, causing those with hearing loss to avoid these situations altogether.
Social isolation is a more serious health issue than many people realize—it has a similar impact on mortality rates as smoking and alcohol consumption. We have a fundamental need for connection and community, so a lack of connection can lead to poor self-esteem, depression, and more negative consequences.
Reduced Job Performance and Earning Power
Those who require hearing aids but don’t wear them generally earn less at work. In fact, those with severe hearing loss earn about $14,000 less than those with mild hearing loss. People with hearing loss aren’t able to fully participate in meetings, have trouble communicating with their colleagues, and often avoid leadership positions. Their hearing problems affect work performance, causing them to miss out on bonuses and raises.
Individuals with hearing loss may also have limited access to educational opportunities due to impaired communication.
Treatment is thus an investment in both your physical health and your career—it can reduce the negative financial effects of hearing loss.
Your hearing plays a vital role in keeping your brain sharp. Several studies prove that the effects of hearing loss include a decline in cognitive abilities—even mild to moderate hearing loss can contribute to this cognitive decline.
Simply put, the effort of always straining to hear stresses the brain. Plus, certain structures of brain cells shrink when they’re not getting enough stimulation, so older adults with hearing loss have less grey matter—neuronal cell bodies—in the auditory cortex. Treating hearing loss protects the way your brain processes sound, preventing the auditory area of the brain’s temporal lobe from degenerating.
Recent studies also show a strong correlation between hearing loss and the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s. For instance, John Hopkins expert Dr. Frank Lin and his colleagues found that even mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Many studies prove that the worse the hearing loss, the more likely a person will develop dementia.
Increased Safety Risks
While you may not realize it, your hearing plays a crucial role in keeping you and your loved ones safe. Those with hearing loss are more at risk of accidents than people with normal hearing. Not being able to hear important announcements or smoke alarms, for example, can put you in serious danger.
Safe driving is largely dependent on hearing signs of danger. For instance, you need to hear emergency vehicles and car horns to ensure you and those in your vehicle remain safe on the road. Treating hearing loss improves your overall awareness of potential road hazards.
Hearing loss also significantly increases the risk of falls for older people, according to a study by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the National Institute on Aging. How so? For one, people who can’t hear well aren’t as aware of their surroundings. Hearing loss also imposes a cognitive load, meaning the brain becomes overwhelmed with demands on its limited resources. When the brain needs to compensate for hearing loss, balance and gait are negatively affected. Even a mild degree of hearing loss triples the risk of accidental falls.
Anxiety and Depression
Hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages; those between the ages of 18 and 69 with hearing loss are significantly more at risk of moderate to severe depression.
A growing body of research points to the link between hearing loss and mental health. Older adults with untreated hearing loss are 57 percent more likely to experience severe stress and depression than their peers with normal hearing, according to a John Hopkins study.
Those suffering from hearing-related anxiety often feel paranoid that others are angry with them and are embarrassed in social situations. The use of hearing aids, however, reduces the effects of hearing loss and increases self-confidence and improves mental health.
Hearing loss is not just an individual issue. It also seriously affects the person’s social circle, including friends, family, and coworkers. As patient as they may be, a person’s loved ones may find it difficult to talk to someone with hearing loss and become frustrated by having to repeat themselves.
Since communication is the cornerstone of all healthy relationships, hearing loss can be the silent killer of relationships. Your spouse, for example, may criticize your ability to listen, when in reality, you have a hearing problem. And your partner may also become stressed and anxious about your condition.
This puts a strain on your romantic relationships, familial bonds, and friendships, and it causes loneliness at a time when you especially need support.
Has communication with those you love suffered due to your hearing loss? The good news is wearing hearing aids can reduce the effects of hearing loss and lead to much more fulfilling relationships.
Diabetes and Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, where 610,000 people die of heart disease every year. In recent years, research has pointed to the relationship between hearing loss and heart disease.
What’s the connection? Hearing loss may be an early sign of cardiovascular disease, according to a study conducted by researchers at Wichita State University. Cardiovascular diseases block blood flow to bodily organs. And since blood vessels in the inner ear especially need an oxygen-rich nutrient supply, abnormalities in the cardiovascular system can be noted here earlier.
While heart disease isn’t an effect of hearing loss, many of the lifestyle behaviors that affect the heart are connected to hearing health. Increased physical activity and omega-3 fatty acids, for example, lower the risk of heart disease and hearing loss. Thus, by treating your hearing loss, you may keep your heart healthy and improve your quality of life.
Similarly, diabetes may lead to hearing loss by damaging the inner ear’s nerves and blood vessels. It’s still unclear how exactly diabetes is related to hearing loss, but of the 84 million adults in the U.S. with prediabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30 percent higher than the population with normal blood glucose.
Hearing Aids Improve Quality of Life
The social, psychological, and physical effects of hearing loss on your everyday life are no minor issue. The good news is hearing loss is manageable. With the right treatment, people with difficulty hearing can live productive, satisfying lives.
The sooner you treat hearing loss, the sooner you’ll go back to enjoying your everyday life. Don’t settle for less simply because you require treatment. Get the hearing technology you need to live your life to the fullest. Book an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist today.