The Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic health conditions for older adults. Unfortunately, most people who might benefit from treatment do not seek help. Untreated hearing loss can lead to social, physical, and psychological problems.
Social Effects of Hearing Loss
Some individuals with hearing loss tend to begin withdrawing from social situations that prove too challenging. This could mean avoiding normal social activities one used to participate in, cutting family dinners short, or skipping out on weekly bridge games. Individuals instead begin to prefer less demanding and quieter settings. All of these things together can lead to isolation and loneliness.
Difficulty participating in conversations, especially group settings
Reduced social activity
Unaware of subtle conversational cues
Behavior confused for rudeness or inattention
Isolation and withdrawal
Physical Effects of Hearing Loss
Social settings can strain hearing to the point where the additional mental effort required to decode speech can become tiresome. This increased physical and mental load can take a toll on an individual’s well-being.
Tiredness and exhaustion
Increased stress and blood pressure
Headaches and muscle tension
Impaired memory and reduced alertness
Irritability and fatigue
Psychological Effects of Hearing Loss
Not only can untreated hearing loss affect social interaction and physical well-being, but it can also influence mental and emotional health. For some individuals, trying to keep up with conversations and overcoming the anxiety of being in social settings may be so stressful that it may result in psychological disorders.
Sadness and depression
Embarrassment, shame, and frustration
Anger, guilt, and anxiety
Distrust of others
Increasing Evidence Connects Hearing Loss to Dementia
Additionally, increasing evidence points to a connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. According to a study published in January 2013 in JAMA Internal Medicine, adults in their 70s and 80s with hearing loss developed cognitive problems at a rate 30 to 40 percent faster than those without hearing loss. While the reason for this apparent connect remains unknown, researchers have speculated that social isolation might be a factor. The additional mental demands of having to constantly decode speech might also be a contributing factor to the types of cognitive changes that, over time, can lead to the onset of dementia.
Since most hearing loss develops gradually over time, it can be difficult to know how well you are hearing now compared with how well you used to hear. Only an accurate hearing test can reveal if you are having difficulty with specific sounds, and if so, how you might be able to hear better.