According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “One in six Americans live with hearing loss that can range from mild to profound.” Even more, one in three people over the age of 65, 50% of people over the age of 75, and 80% of people over the age of 85 experience some degree of hearing loss. If left untreated, hearing loss could negatively impact many different areas of our lives. Here, we take a look at the realities of untreated hearing loss, how to identify the signs, and how to seek treatment.
The Consequences Of Untreated Hearing Loss
An estimated 60% of Americans in the work force experience some degree of hearing loss. A study that analyzed income levels of people with hearing loss (both treated and untreated) of similar employment, marital status, age, gender, and lifestyle, revealed that “people with moderate to profound hearing loss, who did not use hearing aids, experienced household incomes $5,000 to $6,000 less than their counterparts who did use hearing aids.”
In terms of your personal life, hearing loss could affect your most important relationships. With challenges in communication and speech recognition, people with untreated hearing loss eventually avoid interactions and events with their friends and loved ones. Rather than causing frustration by asking people to repeat themselves, many people simply avoid the conversation. Over time, this could cause the deterioration of relationships and create conditions for social isolation – which could contribute to the development of dementia in older adults.
Coincidentally, untreated hearing loss affects your cognitive functions, which is also a risk for developing dementia. At Johns Hopkins University, researchers found that untreated hearing loss engages fewer parts of the brain that were once utilized to process and analyze sound, while the struggle to hear and attempt to make sense of sounds created a greater “cognitive load” that tires out the brain. Fortunately, another study from Japan found that in treating hearing loss early on with the use of hearing aids, people had higher cognitive abilities than subjects who did not seek treatment.
Recognizing The Signs Of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss occurs gradually and may not be immediately identified. Here are a few signs of hearing loss:
Difficulty in large group settings or conversations: Hearing loss makes it difficult to discern speech patterns. In group conversations with cross talk and many voices chiming in, you may find it difficult to understand and follow the conversation.
Higher volumes on your TV and radio: Have you been turning up the volume higher on your TV, radio, and other electronic devices to the maximum level? Perhaps members of your family have complained about how loud the sound is when you’re watching a movie or listening to the radio in the car.
Need for repetition in conversation: You may find that conversations are challenging and that you ask people to repeat themselves often. Difficulty with speech recognition and comprehension is one of the main signs of hearing loss.
Increased levels of stress and anxiety: Because conversations and louder social settings are challenging, you may find yourself anxious before going out to meet up with friends or before attending a business meeting. You might feel anxious about asking people to repeat themselves or for misunderstanding what has been said.
Withdrawal and isolation: Many people with untreated hearing loss withdraw from their social lives and interpersonal relationships, and isolate themselves to avoid the stress and strain of attempting to hear. Untreated hearing loss could lead to depression, which could eventually lead to dementia. If you recognize social isolation as a part of your reality, or a loved one’s, it is time to seek treatment for hearing loss.
Seeking Treatment For Hearing Loss
As an invisible condition, hearing loss is not immediately evident, but its effects radiate to many different part of our life: social, emotional, and physical. On the positive side, hearing loss is a treatable condition if you notice the signs and acknowledge the realities of the condition. By simply taking a hearing test and being fitted for hearing aids, you begin to experience the benefits of reconnecting to the sounds around you.