Hearing loss isn’t just an ear issue; it’s a quality of life and health issue. Untreated hearing loss can have serious emotional, social and health consequences. A decrease in hearing sensitivity is associated with diminished cognitive function, poorer mental health and social withdrawal. Fortunately, hearing loss is treatable with improved communication strategies, aural rehabilitation and in most cases, the use of hearing aids. Early identification of hearing loss increases the chances of effectively treating hearing difficulties.
When you are listening to someone speak, your brain is processing the sound so that you can understand it. A listener with untreated hearing loss is trying to understand degraded speech signals, which means their brain must work harder to process those sounds. Meanwhile, other tasks like memory and comprehension can suffer.
Studies have linked untreated hearing loss effects to:
- Irritability, negativism and anger
- Fatigue, tension, stress and depression
- Avoidance or withdrawal from social situations
- Social rejection and loneliness
- Reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety
- Impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks
- Reduced job performance and earning power
- Diminished psychological and overall health
- Increased risk of falling
Memory and hearing loss: Adults 50 years and older with untreated hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than adults with normal hearing. Adults 75 years and older with untreated hearing loss experiences a 30-40% faster decline in cognitive abilities compared to peers without hearing loss.
Mental health and hearing loss: Adults 50 years and older with untreated hearing loss were found to be less likely to participate in organized social activities than peers who wore hearing aids. Adults 50 years and older with untreated hearing loss are more likely to report depression, anxiety and paranoia than peers who wore hearing aids.
Dementia and hearing loss: Seniors with untreated hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing. Adults with mild hearing loss are two times more likely to develop dementia. Adults with moderate hearing loss are three times more likely to develop dementia. Adults with severe hearing loss are five times more likely to develop dementia.
Hearing loss is classified into the following categories:
- Slight/Minimal Hearing loss (16 to 25 dB HL)
- Mild Hearing Loss (26 to 40 dB HL)
- Moderate Hearing Loss (41 to 55 dB HL)
- Severe Hearing Loss (56 to 70 dB HL)
- Severe Hearing Loss (71 to 90 dB HL)
- Profound Hearing Loss (91 dB HL and above)
According to the Better Hearing Institute, 95 percent of Americans with hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids. Individuals who treat their hearing loss early have shown significant benefit, including reduced mental fatigue, decreased feelings of social isolation and depression, improved ability to do several things at once, improved memory, attention, and focus, as well as improved communication skills.
Why are there so many older people with hearing impairment who do not use hearing aids? Many who do not use hearing aids say, “My hearing is not bad enough” or “I can get along without one.” However, hearing aid users report significant improvements in many areas of their lives, ranging from their relationships at home, to their sense of independence, to their social lives. Families of hearing aid users also report improvements in quality of life.