When we hear the words ‘hearing loss,’ we often think of older adults with age related hearing loss more often than not. But the fact is, around 3.6 million Australians suffer some form of hearing loss. In a significant amount of cases, hearing loss can start earlier than we expect it to, so it’s important to be aware of the warning signs.
For a lot of people, hearing loss can be gradual, slowly creeping up on us in our day-to-day life, until the hearing problem goes from being mild to severe, and we need to start exploring more intense accommodations to lessen its impact on our quality of life.
Recent studies have shown that people whose hearing has been declining can wait up to ten years before they seek help, suffering in silence while they may experience increased risk in health problems, social isolation, and depression, as well as balance problems.
But how does untreated hearing loss really affect an individual? From short to long term effects, we’ve looked at how people with hearing loss can be impacted by lack of timely intervention for their hearing.
It’s well known that the ear plays a large role in maintaining balance as we do physical activities. But what does that have to do with hearing loss? A study from Johns Hopkins has shown that individuals living with hearing loss are also more likely to have an increased risk of falling, as compared to those without hearing issues.
It’s been hypothesised that this heightened risk may be caused by hearing issues hindering one’s spatial awareness, making it difficult to estimate where you are in relation to people and objects that are around you. When hearing loss occurs, the brain needs to work harder in order to help you navigate the world around you, creating a heavier cognitive load that may lessen the effectiveness of the part of the brain that is responsible for balance.
Depression and Isolation
Untreated hearing loss can heavily affect communication with friends and family, with researchers finding links to hearing loss and the development of serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Those who suffer from moderate hearing loss to severe hearing loss often find it difficult to maintain conversation in busy environments, especially when they need to ask people to repeat themselves over and over again in spaces with too much background noise in order to understand what is being said to them. Often this can be discouraging for people, and can prevent them from reaching out for that much needed connection. This raises the risk of social isolation, and lowers the sense of belonging that is so crucial to one’s mental health. If this goes on for a prolonged period of time, it can start to foster a sense of loneliness, which can then begin to affect not only mental health, but physical health, too.
A study even found that older individuals with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report having felt sad for an extended period of time. Hearing aid users in the same study reported significantly lower rates of sadness, which shows that hearing interventions not only help to treat hearing loss, but also helps to lessen the risk of adverse mental health side effects that occur alongside the experience of living with impaired hearing.
What’s more, losing your hearing can be distressing, even if it is gradual. Being unable to hear as you used to, listen to music you enjoy, take in important information, or even being unable to do day-to-day actions that are crucial to living life as you have been can exacerbate feelings of sadness, grief, and sometimes even self-anger. Numerous studies have shown that untreated hearing loss is connected to higher levels of irritability, anger, fatigue, stress, and depression, as well as reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety.
Long-Term Health Issues
Hearing loss has been linked to increased risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease. A study from Johns Hopkins even found links between mild hearing loss and a doubled dementia risk. Those with a severe hearing impairment were actually five times more likely to develop this condition.
Hearing loss has been shown to possibly quicken brain atrophy and, when combined with social isolation from withdrawing from social activities that can occur because of impaired hearing, dementia and memory issues are more likely to occur. This cognitive decline not only affects quality of life, but it also exacerbates feelings of loneliness, shame, grief, and negative mental health.
Check Your Hearing
It’s important to keep an eye on your hearing, and to get your hearing checked regularly. Even if you think that your hearing loss isn’t that bad yet, there’s no harm in getting your hearing tested anyway!
Reputable audiologists, such as the Art of Hearing team, offer free online hearing tests, as well as private hearing tests, to comprehensively check your hearing, both of which can be instrumental to maintaining your hearing health over time.
Whether you’ve got normal hearing, or if you need hearing interventions such as hearing aids, being proactive in checking your hearing can go a long way in preventing further hearing loss, as well as other physical and mental health issues that have been found to be linked to hearing. Contact our friendly team at Art of Hearing today to find out how you can maintain your hearing health!