The Negative Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss

Hearing loss has become a growing concern for many people over the recent years. Plenty of people discover that they are suffering from some form of hearing loss, but tend to ignore it instead of seeking out help from a medical professional. In fact, most people tend to take an average seven years from the time they suspect they could have a hearing loss issue to the time they seek out treatment. The reasons for waiting instead of seeking out help vary, with some claiming solutions on the market to be too expensive, having a negative social stigma and accepting hearing loss as an unavoidable part of aging. Many people even delay care due to believing that the condition isn’t too severe or that there is simply nothing they can do to help their situation.

Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the secondary negative effects of untreated hearing loss. If they were, the chances of preventing their hearing from diminishing and experiencing the terrible ramifications of poor hearing could be prevented. Recent studies have highlighted the cognitive, psychological, and health effects of untreated hearing loss. While the outcomes will vary from person to person, they all can have an immense impact on your quality of life.

Hearing loss doesn’t just affect your ability to hear, but other parts of your life as well. Untreated hearing loss has been associated with a higher risk of depression, loss of balance, memory loss, cognitive decline, and dementia. Furthermore, studies have revealed a connection between hearing loss and social isolation. Those who are dealing with hearing loss are prone to considerable anxiety and frustration, causing them to withdraw from a variety of social interactions with friends and family.

Untreated hearing loss can impact every aspect of your life and health. The consequences of not addressing your hearing issues will remain with you for a long time. Let’s dive deeper into how untreated hearing loss can negatively impact your life.

Cognitive Decline

Hearing is something that most people would not associate with other health issues, but there are some connections between untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline. Several studies have disclosed that there is a connection between hearing loss, cognitive function, and brain health. Cognitive decline happens as a part of aging, but older adults with hearing loss seem to lose brain mass at a much faster rate compared to adults with normal hearing.

While the brain is exceptional at adapting to sensory changes, it does backfire when it comes to hearing loss. Whenever a sound wave enters the ear canal, it becomes processed by the inner ear in a way the brain can understand if the hearing is optimal. It’s that exact mechanism of hearing that grants an individual the capability to identify the different sounds in the surrounding area, from music playing on the radio, to the roaring of a car engine as it passes by you.

While you may be unaware of it, the brain processes sounds every microsecond. There are ambient sounds surrounding you at all times even if the room you are currently in is quiet, there are still noises being made, such as the hum of your refrigerator or air conditioner. The brain will filter out that noise because it’s decided that it’s something you don’t need to hear.

However, the brain still relies on these minor stimulations. When someone is experiencing  hearing loss, the brain is not receiving the same quality or quantity of sound and brain stimulation as someone with good hearing. With the brain conditioned to believe that the sound should still be there, it will struggle to locate it. The stress caused by your brain in an attempt to find the sound it was used to identifying, along with the lack of stimulation, may cause cognitive decline. That can increase the chances of dementia from appearing later on in life.

According to the National Institute of Aging, seniors have a 40% higher chance of experiencing memory loss and cognitive decline if they suffer from untreated hearing loss. Their study claims that people have shown improvement in their cognitive abilities if they invest in hearing aids to counteract their hearing loss.

Emotional Health

Untreated hearing loss can cause a negative impact on your emotions. The American Speech-language Hearing Association claims that there are several ways it can impact your emotional health, and that includes:

Anger and Denial

The slow decline of a person’s hearing can lead to a drastic change in their everyday life. It can be challenging for them to adjust to their new way of life, which causes frustration and anger to stir up inside of them as they struggle to adapt to their diminished hearing abilities. Additionally, it’s common for people experiencing hearing loss to fall into denial about the seriousness of their hearing loss because it’s a change in their life that is difficult for them to accept as a part of them.

Anxiety and Depression

When a person loses their hearing, it can make them feel as if they have lost a part of their identity and can lead to feelings of sadness, which can develop into anxiety and depression. The symptoms of depression can include crying, slowed responses, weight changes, and disrupted sleeping patterns. Hearing loss can also cause anxiety to increase whenever individuals are speaking to another person and are struggling to follow along with the conversation. It can generate a lot of stress and worries that they are missing out on essential information from the conversation.

Listening Fatigue

Listening fatigue is usually one of the earliest indicators of hearing loss for many cases. Listening fatigue occurs due to how the ears and brain work in synchronization to process the sounds reaching your ears. The inside of your ears contain tiny hair cells that are responsible for transforming soundwaves into electrical impulses that the brain translates as sounds. Every one of these cells is responsible for particular frequencies, but if any of these cells become damaged or destroyed, the audible frequencies start to diminish. That means the brain will need to work even harder than before to understand the sounds with the remaining sensory cells.

Isolation and Social Withdrawal

Hearing loss can cause people to withdraw from their usual social circle due to the difficulty of following along with the conversation that is going around them. Isolation is common among people who have trouble hearing, and they would rather avoid the feeling of embarrassment, stress, and anxiety when it comes to dealing with their hearing loss. With the person slowly drifting away from their usual social interaction and isolating themselves from the rest of the world, they are likely to start feeling depressed.

The growing frustration of being unable to hear well during these social situations could cause people to avoid going out to public settings or meeting with their friends and family members. That will eventually lead to them becoming socially isolated and can spiral down into other complications along the way.

According to a study published in 2014, it states that untreated hearing loss was connected with increased odds of social isolation in older adults, specifically among women between the ages of 60 to 69. That means that by treating hearing loss before it becomes more severe, the person may have the ability to negate social isolation and depression.

Since many adults do not seek out treatment when they notice the signs of hearing loss early on, it can exacerbate the issue of social isolation later on in life. Taking too long to treat these hearing issues will worsen the damage and lessen the number of treatment options available to the person. There will be a point where devices like hearing aids may not help treat their hearing issue any longer or might not work as effectively as they should.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has stated that of adults 70 and older who could benefit from using hearing aids, only less than one in three have ever decided to use them. There could be several reasons why they don’t use them, such as denial, social stigma, accessibility, and affordability. Social isolation and loneliness have a wide range of detrimental health effects. The impact caused by this is so severe that it has become considered as hazardous as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. Loneliness can significantly raise the risk of depression, dementia, and early death.

Loneliness is also connected to high blood pressure, increased stress hormones, and a weakened immune system. The feeling of isolation can also heighten the risk of dementia by 40% and the chances of early death by 26% to 45%.

Relationship Issues

Untreated hearing loss can invade other parts of your life besides the physical and emotional side. People who are experiencing hearing loss are statistically known to make less money throughout their careers. According to a study published by the Better Hearing Institute, they discovered that people with untreated hearing loss make 20,000 dollars per year less compared to those who have better hearing than them.

Hearing loss also causes issues when it comes to personal relationships. According to a survey from 2007, it was found that 35% of the respondents with hearing loss were struggling to maintain their relationships with friends and family. The survey revealed several things, including:

  • 35% of men were pressured into receiving treatment by their partner or spouse before they would agree to do so. 
  • 37% of women who were questioned commenced that they were annoyed whenever someone with hearing loss was not paying attention to what they were saying. 
  • The majority of women indicated that hearing loss was a massive concern when it comes to communicating with those closest to them.
  • 43% of men stated that they had issues maintaining their relationships because of their untreated hearing loss.

 

Furthermore, research has discovered that untreated hearing loss can become a primary cause of stress, particularly among couples. These studies have shown that hearing loss causes feelings of embarrassment, distress, and frustration for the spouse and the relationship as a whole. Researchers who conducted this study found that “both the hearing-impaired participants and their close partners bemoaned the loss of spontaneity and the difficulties of sharing small unexpected incidents, observations and small talk in their everyday interactions.”

Everyday interaction between couples, regardless if it’s about pressing matters or just some minor chat-chat, are foundations for a strong relationship. Hearing loss can severely impact those short, but necessary conversations to fade over time. When communication is lost between couples, frustration can start to settle in. That frustration may ultimately evolve into resentment, which then spirals down into communication and intimacy issues. That eventually leads to both parties experiencing loneliness and isolation.

Risk of Falling

As untreated hearing loss continues to be studied closely by some of the best researchers around, the more troubling issues they discover. According to a study published by John Hopkins of Medicine and the National Institutes of Aging, people with untreated hearing loss vastly increase the chances of falling as they get older. This discovery can have far-reaching implications when it comes to preventing falls and helping those in the older generations continue to live independently.

Researchers have claimed that there are several reasons why hearing loss is associated with higher chances of falling. One of the many reasons is because hearing loss leads to less environmental perception of the things going around them. Spatial awareness is an ability that allows us to know where our bodies are positioned concerning other objects and people around us, which could be another indicator for a higher chance of falling over.

The last reason could be due to cognitive overload obstructing balance, meaning that those with hearing loss are utilizing far more of their mental resources to listen and interpret speech and other sounds around them. Since mental resources are limited, that means those with untreated hearing loss can have fewer resources to dedicate to keeping their balance.

Conclusion

Untreated hearing loss can have a severe impact on a variety or important aspects of our lives. Not seeking out assistance from a medical professional as soon as possible will merely worsen the condition and limit the options of treatment. If you are experiencing hearing loss, consider the information that has been presented here and have your doctor check your hearing before it severely impacts your overall health, wellbeing and quality of life.

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