It’s an unfortunate fact of life that hearing loss is part of the aging process. Approximately 38 million people in the United States suffer from some form of hearing loss, though since hearing loss is expected as we age, many decide to leave it unchecked. Ignoring hearing loss, however, can have serious negative side effects on a person’s entire well-being beyond their inability to hear.
Why do many people decide to simply just live with hearing loss? According to an AARP study, more than one-third of senior citizens consider hearing loss to be a minor issue that can be handled easily enough, while more than half of the respondents cited cost as a concern. However, those costs can rise astronomically when you factor in the serious side effects and conditions that are brought on by ignoring hearing loss. Here are the most common negative effects of ignoring hearing loss.
Most people will not immediately connect the dots from fatigue to hearing loss. Instead, they will attribute fatigue to several different factors, such as slowing down due to aging or a side-effect of medication. The reality is that the less you can hear, the more your body works to make up for it, leaving you feeling tired. Imagine you are taking a test like the SAT where your brain is totally focused on processing the task at hand. Once you’re finished, you probably feel drained. The same thing happens when you struggle to hear: your brain is working to fill in the blanks you’re missing in conversations – which is often made even harder when there is a lot of background noise – and uses up precious energy just trying to process the conversation. This type of chronic fatigue can impact your health by leaving you too tired to take care of yourself, skipping out on things like going to the gym or cooking healthy meals.
Several studies by Johns Hopkins University linked hearing loss to decreased brain functions, accelerated brain tissue loss, and dementia. While these links are correlations instead of causations, researchers believe that, again, the more cognitive resources that are spent trying to fill in the blanks of a conversation, the less there are to focus on other things like memorization and comprehension. And as people age, the increased draw on cognitive resources can speed up the decline of other brain functions and contribute to gray matter loss. In addition, having a regular exchange of ideas and information, often through conversation, is believed to help seniors stay mentally fit and can help slow the process of cognitive decline. The fact that a link was discovered between hearing loss and a decline in cognitive functions is promising for future research, since hearing professionals and cognitive specialists can work together to pinpoint the causes and develop treatments for these ailments.
Mental Health Issues
The National Council on the Aging conducted a study of 2,300 seniors who suffered some form of hearing loss and discovered that those who left their condition untreated were more likely to also suffer from mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and paranoia, which negatively affected their social and emotional well-being. The link between hearing loss and mental health issues makes sense, since people with hearing loss often have difficulty communicating with others in social or family situations. This can lead to feelings of isolation, which can eventually lead to depression. If left untreated, anxiety and even paranoia can surface due to these feelings of isolation and exclusion. Hearing aids have been shown to aid in the recovery from depression, though anyone suffering from depression, anxiety, or paranoia should consult with a mental health professional.
Our bodies are one interconnected machine – if one part stops functioning as it should, it could have a negative impact on another seemingly unrelated part. This is the case with our hearts and ears. Case in point, hearing loss will occur when blood does not flow easily from the heart to the inner ear. Diabetes, which is also linked to heart disease, can impact the inner ear’s nerve endings and cause messages sent from the ear to the brain to become scrambled. People who have noticed some degree of hearing loss and who have a history of heart disease or diabetes in their families should consult with both a hearing professional and cardiac specialist to determine whether the hearing loss is indeed caused by a heart condition, since ignoring the symptoms could lead to serious, possibly fatal consequences.
If you suffer from hearing loss or are experiencing any of the negative effects listed above, please reach out to us so we can help you live a healthier life.