Hearing loss is often associated with frequent doctor’s visits, health insurance paperwork, and expensive equipment. What we may not immediately think about are the social and emotional tolls, mental health, or anxiety and depression. Neglecting hearing loss is costly and often has detrimental effects on other facets of your overall health.
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition—more prevalent than diabetes or cancer—that affect adults in America, and is the single most common condition for seniors. An estimated 48 million Americans are living some degree of hearing loss that negatively affects their quality of life—academically, professionally, medically, socially, or any combination of these.
Looking Back on Hearing
Dr. Mark Hammel is a psychologist in Kingston, N.Y. whose hearing was damaged by machine gun fire in his 20s when he served in the Israeli Army. He reflected on his experience with hearing loss in a recent interview. It was not until 30+ years later, in his late 50s, did he receive his first hearing aids.
“It was very joyful, but also very sad, when I contemplated how much I had missed all those years. I could hear well enough sitting face to face with someone in a quiet room, but in public, with background noise, I knew people were talking, but I had no idea what they were saying. I just stood there nodding my head and smiling.”
Dr. Hammel’s experience is unfortunately very common among many people living with disabling hearing loss. His story alludes to a nondisclosure method of socializing (not informing others of one’s hearing loss) which can often lead to isolation and depression.
“People with hearing loss often don’t realize what they’re missing,” he said. “So much of what makes us human is social contact, interaction with other human beings. When that’s cut off, it comes with a very high cost.”
Hearing Loss Can Affect You Physically
When hearing loss is left untreated, it can manifest in physical ailments. Headaches and dizziness are common side effects, often from mental fatigue because the brain has to work much harder to fulfill its role in the hearing process. Problems with diet have been reported, too, along with sleeping and even sex.
Personal safety is also an area of concern for people living with hearing loss, especially seniors, as dizziness can calls falls and serious injury. Signals of warning while in public or driving could be missed as alarms and horns are often at higher frequencies. At home, low-frequency smoke detectors and bed and pillow shakers are recommended in case of fire emergency. Strobes and other light sensors are also recommended as safety accommodations.
In a survey conducted by the National Council on the Aging, 2,906 people with hearing impairment explained their reluctance to get a hearing aid. Two-thirds of older adults with untreated hearing loss made statements like “my hearing is not bad enough” or “I can get along without one,” and one in five people said things like “it would make me feel old” or “I don’t like what others will think about me.”
This well-documented stigma even causes people to make excuses about their hearing loss.
On the other hand, people with hearing aids were more socially active and at a lesser risk to experience depression, insecurity or paranoia. The findings of the survey were published in 1999 and funded by the trade group Hearing Industries Association, but experts say that not much has changed in the attitudes and treatment of hearing loss.
Putting Your Brain Back to Work
In a 2012 Healthy Hearing magazine, one person in three older than 60 has life-diminishing hearing loss, but most older adults wait 5 to 15 years before they seek the help of a hearing health care professional. During this time, the brain has gotten out of the habit of processing sound collected by the ear canal.
Dr. Hammel recalls, “I had lost the habit of listening. After I got the aids, it took me a long time to get back into the habit of paying attention to what people were saying.”
When hearing aids are worn for the first time, the brain must relearn to carry those messages from the cochlea to the auditory cortex located in the temporal lobe. The brain stem can then decode signals such as duration, intensity, and frequency. It is like a muscle that has atrophied.
Atlanta Hearing Doctor
Having your hearing checked at the first signs of a hearing loss prevents the hindsight regret of leaving hearing loss untreated. There is quality time with loved ones deserving of your full self; birthdays, holidays, family gatherings. You then owe it to yourself to ensure the health of your hearing for your physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being. Contact us at Atlanta Hearing Doctor today to learn more!