Research shows that untreated hearing loss has troubling consequences that go far beyond simply misunderstanding what someone says. It can contribute to cognitive decline and a diminished quality of life. It happens so gradually that many people don’t realize at first what they’ve lost. Voices on the phone begin to sound muffled. Conversations in crowded places become harder to hear. Even with the volume turned up, the television isn’t loud enough.
One in three Americans ages 50 to 59 suffers from hearing loss, according to a 2011 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The number climbs to almost 45 percent for people ages 60 to 69. The most common cause of hearing problems comes from aging. But a lifetime of exposure to loud sounds can also contribute to hearing loss.
In 2013, researchers at Johns Hopkins found that people with hearing loss who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience depression than those without aids.
Hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of:
- Mental decline and dementia. Being able to hear and converse to exchange information and ideas—keeps us mentally engaged, especially as we age. When we lose the ability to hear normally, our brains are no longer being challenged in the same way.
- Social isolation and depression. Hearing is an essential part of social interaction. When you begin to have trouble hearing, you may avoid socializing. Isolation, in turn, may lead to depression and anxiety.
- Balance. If you have uncorrected hearing loss, you have an increased risk of falling compared to people who have normal hearing. Researchers theorized that people with hearing loss may have inner-ear problems that affect equilibrium.
- Gait speed. Hearing loss is associated with a slower walking speed. An equilibrium problem or the conflicting demands on your cognitive function may affect walking speed and balance.
- Quality of life. Added together, the consequences of age-related hearing loss can have a significant negative impact on your quality of life.
- Your loved ones’ quality of life. Being hard of hearing doesn’t affect only you; it also impacts people close to you, such as your spouse or partner, family members, and caregivers.
Source: Health After 50; Dr. Lee M. Askt, M.D.
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