Individuals with untreated hearing loss in Lake Charles are at risk for a number of debilitating physical, social and psychological health effects. One of the most common is loneliness, which in turn can lead to depression and dementia. It’s a complicated link backed by a new research study.
Why Do Some People Skip Treatment?
Hearing loss affects 48 million Americans, making it one of the most common chronic health conditions in the U.S. (behind only arthritis and heart disease). Yet, many people don’t take it as seriously as other health concerns, delaying or skipping treatment entirely. Doing so can be costly; according to research published in JAMA Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, over a 10-year period untreated hearing loss:
- Increases the risk of dementia by 50 percent
- Increases the risk of depression by 40 percent
- Increases the risk of falls by 30 percent
Yet, only about 20 percent of older Americans with hearing loss take steps to treat their condition by wearing hearing aids. Their reasons include:
- Lack of awareness. Hearing loss develops gradually and the brain “fills in the gaps” by diverting resources from other key cognitive areas in order to help you hear more effectively. This doesn’t resolve the problem; instead, it makes it difficult to recognize the impairment. No wonder it takes an average of seven years from the onset of hearing loss for patients to seek medical attention.
- A perceived stigma. Some people think that wearing hearing aids will make them look older, but consider this: constantly saying “what?” and asking others to repeat themselves is more likely to make you appear older! Today’s hearing aids are so tiny they are hardly noticeable.
- Cost concerns. Yes, hearing aids can be pricey, and many insurance carriers don’t cover treatment costs for hearing loss (Medicare included). But it’s hard to put a price tag on the benefits provided by hearing aids.
When you ignore the problem, you are increasing the risk of some pretty serious side effects. Many people with impaired hearing shy away from social activities due to the strain and fatigue caused by trying to keep up with conversations. This withdrawal from social activities leads to isolation and loneliness; a Dutch study found that every decibel drop in hearing perception corresponds to a seven percent increase in severe loneliness in people younger than 70.
The worse your hearing loss, the more severe your loneliness is likely to be, triggering a domino effect of health problems that include stress, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Many experts now consider social isolation as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It increases your risk of dementia by 40 percent and premature death by 26 percent.
The reason for the correlation between hearing loss, loneliness and dementia is unclear. What is known is that stress hormones and inflammation are higher in people experiencing loneliness, factors that are linked to dementia. Additionally, the lack of brain stimulation that accompanies isolation can speed up cognitive decline. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University are conducting a four-year study that is taking a closer look at whether hearing loss treatment can delay or prevent cognitive impairment and reduce loneliness. When their trials wrap up in 2022, it’s hoped that a clearer picture will emerge, one that will lead to new solutions for patients with hearing loss.
In the meantime, it’s imperative that you seek medical attention for hearing loss. At the very least, hearing aids will help improve your quality of life—and it’s likely they’ll help you avoid many associated health problems. Set up an appointment with an audiologist in Lake Charles at your earliest convenience.