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Hearing loss is possibly one of the most neglected medical conditions and is often left untreated till the degree of loss progresses to a high level. Unlike vision that can be corrected, hearing loss (sensorineural) cannot be cured and degenerates faster if ignored continuously.
Hearing loss does not just cause an inability to hear clearly but results in a number of medical, social and psychological consequences, such as dementia, isolation and depression.
Memory loss, dementia, cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease
A number of studies have linked a high risk of dementia, memory loss, cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease to hearing loss. According to a Reader's Digest article:
Clinical research has shown that hearing loss is found in nine out of ten subjects with dementia. This could be because those with hearing loss are more likely to isolate themselves, which is itself a risk factor for faster cognitive decline.
A study by Dr. Frank Lin and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins reiterates the link between hearing loss and dementia:
Although the reason for the link between the two conditions is unknown, the investigators suggest that a common pathology may underlie both or that the strain of decoding sounds over the years may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia. They also speculate that hearing loss could lead to dementia by making individuals more socially isolated, a known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders.
Simply put, as the brain is deprived of hearing sensations and has to work harder to decipher sounds, it causes decline in healthy brain function that eventually affects other areas such as memory, thinking skills and perception abilities.
Gradual loss of communication ability due to hearing loss results in the sufferer slowly withdrawing from a social life and getting cut off from people, even family and loved ones. Untreated hearing loss inhibits the ability to converse easily, take delight in normal day-to-day activities such as listening to music or making phone calls and causes a drop in performing regular work.
Fatigue and inertia
A deficit of auditory inputs makes the brain work harder to understand sounds and this leads to a sense of exhaustion and fatigue. As per Healthy Hearing magazine:
According to Dr. Ervin Hafter, a professor of psychology at the University of California Berkeley, the extra processing your brain has to do when you have poor hearing can create an overload that can affect your overall cognitive performance. The extra effort required to comprehend speech in noise when your normal mechanisms for filtering out background sounds are impaired can put an overload on the brain that makes it harder to perform other mental tasks at the same time. The result can be poorer performance on work-related tasks and extra work keeping up with others than if your brain didn't have to go through extra cycles trying to comprehend and communicate.
Depression, stress and anxiety
As social isolation separates people from social activities, people suffering from untreated hearing loss can develop depression and feel anxiety when they are required to communicate with others, especially in social situations.
Three-fold risk of falling
Research by Johns Hopkins indicates that people with even mild hearing loss are three times more susceptible to falling and injuring themselves, with every 10 decibel additional hearing loss increasing the risk:
... people with a 25-decibel hearing loss, classified as mild, were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling. Every additional 10-decibels of hearing loss increased the chances of falling by 1.4 fold. This finding still held true, even when researchers accounted for other factors linked with falling, including age, sex, race, cardiovascular disease and vestibular function.
Diminished capacity to learn new tasks
As hearing loss affects memory retention and causes a decline in cognitive function, it becomes difficult for sufferers to learn new tasks or comprehend easily new technologies.
Reduced earning potential
The increased load on the brain to perform tasks when a person is hearing impaired leads to exhaustion and affects job-related performance. According to a study carried out by www.hear-it.org, one in five people suffering from hearing loss leave the job market due to an inability to cope with demanding work pressures, thereby reducing their earning potential:
Hearing impaired people are leaving the job market at a much higher rate than their normal-hearing colleagues. [...] Most hearing impaired people do well in their work, but their hearing problem often results in difficulty conducting phone conversations and taking part in discussions with colleagues.
Difficulties with social and language development skills in children with hearing loss
World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally 32 million children suffer from hearing loss. Children with hearing loss experience difficulties in developing language, communication and social skills. They take more time to learn vocabulary, find it harder to understand language nuances and communicate with others. All this can result in the isolation of the child and a poorer quality of life because of hearing problems that may be treatable.
Hearing health now!
Take steps today to ensure your hearing health. Even mild hearing loss should be addressed and not left to deteriorate. Hearing cells cannot be regenerated and hearing loss can only be compensated by hearing treatment.
If you feel you or a loved one is experiencing difficulty with hearing, consult an audiologist or an ENT specialist for an evaluation of hearing.