Age-related hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing. Having trouble hearing can make many everyday interactions challenging. However, hearing loss affects more than just your ability to hear. If left untreated, you can fall victim to several hidden health risks of hearing loss, including walking problems, falls, and dementia.
Hearing loss is no longer just an annoyance or inconvenience. Within the last several years, studies have found a direct correlation between your overall health and your ability to hear. These potential health impacts can wreak havoc on your quality of life and well-being. Read on to learn more about these hidden risks of hearing loss.
Social Isolation and Depression
Usually, adults will develop hearing loss gradually over time. What may start as a minor inconvenience that forces you to turn the phone volume up higher, ask people to repeat themselves, or choose quieter gathering spots, can develop into a major difficulty causing you to become isolated.
When activities or experiences become cumbersome because of hearing loss, many individuals become less interested in participating. They become stressed and lose interest in social engagement. This leads to a life of loneliness, which can result in depression. We’re social beings. We weren’t meant to be alone and not communicate with others. Isolation causes feelings of being left out. And no one like to be left out.
Cognitive Impairment and Dementia
Brain scans have shown that hearing loss may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain. This could be a result of a lack of engagement and an increase in social isolation. We have to stimulate our brains to keep them healthy. According to a British study, untreated hearing loss was found to be one of the top controllable factors leading to dementia.
Another factor that makes dementia one of the hidden risks of hearing loss is the belief that hearing loss makes the brain work harder – and not in a good way. Studies have shown that people who struggle to hear deplete brain energy by forcing the brain to strain and fill in the gaps.
As your hearing loss becomes more severe, your risk for dementia increases. Individuals with moderate hearing loss are three times more likely to develop dementia, and those with severe hearing loss are up to five times more likely. Hearing aids may not eliminate your risk, but if they improve your hearing and allow you to be socially involved, it may alleviate some of the side effects.
Loss of Balance
While good balance usually demonstrates good physical fitness thanks to a strong core, it also says something about your hearing. Balance begins in your ears. A part of the inner ear called the labyrinth is responsible for your balance. If the labyrinth becomes inflamed or damaged, it results in imbalance and can cause you to be unsteady on your feet. Many inner ear diseases affect not only your hearing but also your balance.
When anyone, but especially older adults, has balance issues, they run the risk of falling. This is partially because hearing loss mutes important signals that help you stay balanced while walking. When these signals are missed, your brain has to work harder, as discussed earlier, to process sound. This leaves your brain multitasking which may interfere with the mental processing needed to maintain balance while walking.
Studies have suggested that low-frequency hearing loss could be an indicator of the presence or potential development of cardiovascular disease. The main relationship between the two, making heart disease a health risk of hearing loss, is blood flow. Cardiovascular disease causes inadequate blood flow throughout the body, including the inner ear. And a lack of blood flow decreases your hearing by affecting the sensory cells within your inner ears.
The correlation between heart disease and hearing loss is still slightly unclear. But while it seems as if cardiovascular conditions lead to a loss in hearing and not the reverse, hearing loss is still a vital indicator. Many who suffer from cardiovascular diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, often go undiagnosed. Hearing loss symptoms might help signal a more serious condition that needs to be addressed.
Listen Up and Get Tested
Being able to hear isn’t a luxury. It’s a basic human sense that helps us to function and perceive the world around us. It’s vital to our overall health. If hearing loss isn’t treated appropriately, it could result in some serious hidden health risks.
If you have noticed a change in your hearing that’s causing you difficulty carrying out normal daily functions and activities, speak to your provider about it. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you have to struggle to hear. Get the help you deserve and start listening up.