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Health Risks Associated with Hearing Loss

It’s possible that hearing is the most overlooked of the five human senses. But your ability to hear is incredibly important, and the longer you put off addressing a hearing problem, the greater the possibility of adverse health effects.

JAMA Study

According to a 10-year study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), there is a link between hearing loss and health risks. The risks include a 50% greater risk of dementia, a 40% greater risk of developing depression, and a nearly 30% higher risk of accidental falls. While hearing loss is becoming more prevalent in younger people due to the use of earbuds and noise pollution, it’s the elderly population who are more quickly and significantly affected by adverse health risks due to hearing loss. Nearly 27 million Americans aged 50 or over have hearing loss, but only one in seven uses a hearing aid or implant device.

Hearing Loss

There is a wide range of reasons that account for hearing loss. Some are genetic, while others include noise exposure, medications, head injuries, and infections. Hearing loss is a frustrating experience for those who have it, along with their loved ones. And the worst thing to do is ignore it. The sooner your hearing is tested, the better your ability to prevent or protect yourself from associated health risks. According to Johns Hopkins University, brain scans indicate that hearing loss has even been linked with more rapid brain atrophy rates.

Your walking motor skills depend on your hearing to pick up subtle cues that help you maintain your balance. Hearing loss mutes these critical cues and makes your brain work harder to pick up sounds, which can then interfere with some of the mental processes needed for safe walking.

One of the first symptoms of hearing loss is trouble detecting high-pitched or soft sounds. This form of hearing loss is associated with stereocilia, which is the damaging of the fragile hair cells that convert sound waves into electrical signals your brain can understand. For example, high-pitched sounds might include children’s voices, while soft sounds include phone conversations or background noise in a restaurant. If you’re having trouble hearing these softer or high-pitched sounds, make an audiologist appointment for a hearing assessment to get a baseline reading. Loss of hearing contributes to social isolation, and the longer you wait to address hearing loss, the greater the risk of cognition problems. You may hear the words but not be able to process their meaning.

Communication between patients and health care providers is also problematic for adults with hearing loss. Patients participate less in their health care plan and can become confused about their diagnosis and possible treatment. Also, following instructions post-appointment or hospital discharge can be problematic. Costs associated with untreated hearing loss have prompted both health care companies and insurers to find better ways to serve patients with hearing loss.

Treating Hearing Loss

Other than cost, there is no downside to hearing aids. They are discreet, easy to learn how to use, and professionally adjustable over time to compensate for increased hearing loss. Once you factor in the cost of a potential fall, increased risk of dementia, social isolation, and depression, the cost of hearing aids is comparatively minimal. If your hearing loss is profound already, there are cochlear implants, devices implanted into the inner ear to stimulate the auditory nerve. These devices can help to restore sound perception in adults with more extreme hearing loss.

While it’s not yet proven that treating hearing loss can prevent dementia, unintended falls, social isolation, or depression, it’s important to investigate since more than two-thirds of adults over 70 have significant hearing loss that can affect their everyday quality of life. Older adults with untreated hearing problems also incur substantially higher overall health care costs. At the ten-year mark of untreated hearing loss in older adults, the incidence of hospitalization increases by about 50%. There are also higher rates of hospital readmission and an increased likelihood of emergency room visits compared to elderly adults without hearing loss.

Make good hearing part of your overall plan to age successfully. Like retirement planning and elder law planning, the sooner you address the issue, the better the outcome will be.

Our law firm is dedicated to informing you of issues affecting seniors who may be experiencing declining health. We help you and your loved ones prepare for potential long-term medical expenses and the need to transition to in-home care, assisted living care, or nursing home care. For assistance, please contact us at 914-498-8709 and schedule a consultation.

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