6 Hidden Risks of Hearing Loss
There are a number of hidden risks associated with hearing loss, particularly if it goes untreated. Not hearing well, straining to follow conversations, the auditory system not functioning as it should – all have other impacts on our health. Below are six of hidden risks of hearing loss that are worth reading about.
Hidden Risk #1 Atrophy
Although our ears gather sound, hearing and interpretation happens in the brain. The old saying ‘use it or lose it’ is very true of all cognitive functions, including hearing. Our hearing occurs in the temporal lobe section of the brain – within the auditory cortex.
Research on the brain has shown that when hearing is diminished, atrophy of the brain cells is seen in associated section. This leads to a decline in cognitive function and may contribute to memory loss, impaired thinking, and dementia.
Studies have found the decline in cognitive impairment can be up to 30-40 percent faster in people with hearing loss. The good news is that if hearing aids are used, the deterioration process can be interrupted with much evidence suggesting the earlier you get hearing aids, the better for your brain health.
Hidden Risk #2 Isolation
It is a well-known fact that hearing loss can lead to isolation. You may remember when you were younger, that some older members of the family seemed distant, or didn’t want to be involved in conversations at family gatherings. Or perhaps you noticed one guy who sat alone during lunchtime at the factory? These people may have had a hearing loss and found it just too hard to join in, as they missed so much of what was said.
Untreated hearing loss means you can miss out on not only the sounds of the world around you, but also important communication with family and friends. This can lead you into a narrowing world of sounds and experiences as you withdraw and become isolated.
Not engaging with the world around you – conversations, activities, society – can also contribute to dementia. Getting hearing aids will keep you actively engaged, both with your hearing and emotions, which will also have a positive effect on your cognition.
Hidden Risk #3 Balance
The balance organ is an integral part of the auditory system. To maintain balance we use our hearing, touch and sight senses. If one of those senses is compromised – so is your balance. Keeping you upright, balanced and walking, involves you hearing subtle cues. If you have a hearing loss, these sounds will be diminished, putting more strain on your cognitive abilities, meaning your brain has to work just that bit harder to process the cues and work out what’s happening around you.
The extra effort required by your brain can cause disruption to your balance, leading to difficulty walking or resulting in a fall. This is such a well-known fact that hearing aid manufacturers are now including fall detection technology in their devices.
Hidden Risk #4 Fatigue
Hearing loss makes you tired – there’s no two ways about it. All that extra effort to listen to what people are saying, trying to fill in the gaps of what you didn’t hear - leads to fatigue and exhaustion. If you find that after work, or at the end of a day, you are feeling more tired than usual, think back over what you had to achieve to get through the daily grind.
Were you having difficulty following the agenda in the meeting? Did you struggle to hear the jokes at lunch time? Did you have a headache after the family gathering? If you’re feeling fatigued at the end of the day and these situations seem familiar to you, it might time to get your hearing assessed and see if hearing aids can help with the fatigue.
Hidden Risk #5 Depression
Isolation (Hidden risk #2) from society has other effects – it can lead to depression and anxiety. Many research projects over the past few decades have determined that untreated hearing loss in older people leads to depression, as well as anxiety and in some cases, paranoia
This is particularly evident when compared to the same group of older people who wore hearing aids, where these issues were less pronounced. Hearing loss impacts our life in many ways – including our relationships with loved ones.
Some see it as a sign of aging or feel embarrassed that their hearing is compromised. Understanding, acknowledging, and accepting hearing loss goes a long way towards relieving any stress, anxiety, or depression you may be feeling. There can be psychological impacts of hearing loss, so if you feel you are experiencing any of these issues, consult your doctor and have your hearing assessed.
Hidden Risk #6 Safety
The risk of having a fall increases with age and is tripled with hearing loss (see Risk #3).
Safety is a very real concern when someone has a hearing loss. If you have a hearing loss you’re not only at greater risk of having a fall, but you may miss smoke alarms, sirens while in traffic or even warning calls at work. Getting a hearing aid will assist hearing these alarm signals in all aspects of your daily life. It will help you with safety at work, out in traffic and in the home.
There are many hidden risks of hearing loss, especially when it comes to our cognitive health and physical safety in the world. If any of the hidden risks ring a bell for you, it might be time to get your hearing tested to see if your hearing needs a boost. Amplification can go a long way to improving not only your hearing health, but it can support you in other areas, helping you to lead a full and active life.