Picture hearing loss and most people imagine an elderly person with an old-fashioned hearing aid saying, “What’s that sonny?” That fact is, hearing loss has risen sharply among all age groups and it affects more than just your ability to hear. There are shocking health consequences for people who ignore it. These four alone make it worth having your hearing tested.
1. Mental Decline
Hearing is a sense that you might not associate with other health problems but there is a connection. The most serious is the impact hearing loss has on your cognitive functions and brain health. There is evidence that conditions people associate with aging like memory loss may actually be caused by hearing decline.
The brain has a fantastic ability to adapt to sensory changes, but that backfires when it comes to hearing loss. For someone with normal hearing, a sound is processed through the inner ear in a way that the brain can understand it. It’s that mechanism of hearing that allows you to tell the difference between the music coming from your car radio and what the ice cream truck plays as it heads down your street.
The brain encounters sound each microsecond whether you think you are hearing something or not. If you are sitting in a quiet room, there is still ambient noise around you like the hiss of air coming through the AC vent. Your brain interprets this as a sound you don’t need to know about, so you don’t notice it.
This stimulus is something the brain comes to expect. When there is hearing loss, suddenly it doesn’t get the same quantity or quality of sound. It still thinks it’s there, though, and struggles to find it. The stress on the brain, and absence of stimuli, can cause cognitive decline that increases your risk of dementia later in life. Studies show that memory loss and cognitive decline is around 40 percent higher in seniors with hearing loss. Even more compelling, people with hearing loss who get treatment like hearings aids have been shown to improve cognitive function.
2. Gut Problems
That seems like a stretch, but it’s not. The changes you experience due to hearing loss have been associated with side effects like:
- Muscle tension
- Upset stomach
The ongoing stress can manifest intestinal problems like:
- Abdominal cramps
As the discomfort increases, you may find yourself with a more serious intestinal condition like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
3. Mental Health Problems
The impact hearing loss has on your mental health is probably the most noticeable side effect. A 2014 study found that a decline in hearing correlates to an increase in depression in adults under the age of 70.
The study published in the JAMA Otolaryngology Neck Surgery found people with untreated hearing loss have a hard time communicating with others and that likely accounts for the depression. The research indicates that depression is more prominent in women between the ages of 18 to 69.
Over the years, the untreated hearing loss has been connected to many mental health problems such as:
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of focus
People who can’t effectively communicate stop trying and that leads to sadness and psychological stress.
4. Troubled Relationships
The side effects of hearing loss invade more than your physical and mental health. People with poor hearing statistically make less money. A 2007 study conducted by the Better Hearing Institute found individuals with untreated hearing loss make on average 20,000 dollars less a year than their hearing colleagues.
Hearing loss creates problems in personal relationships, too. A 2007 survey found 35 percent of the respondents with hearing loss had trouble maintaining relationships. The survey showed:
- Thirty-five percent of men reported they agreed to treatment for hearing loss because their spouse or partner pressured them into it
- Forty-three percent of men indicated that hearing loss caused relationship problems
- Most women indicated relationships with family members and friends were a significant concern with the hearing loss
- Thirty-seven percent of women surveyed reported getting annoyed when someone with hearing loss wasn’t listening to them
Hearing loss impacts your health, how you feel about yourself and the world and your relationships. The good news is many of these side effects disappear or lesson when you get help such as hearing aids. When was the last time you had your hearing checked?