Healthy hearing helps us connect to both other people and the world around us. We talk to family, whisper to friends, listen to music, and take in the sound of nature every day. As our hearing is impaired so is our ability to communicate as well as enjoy the world. Since hearing loss is often gradual, it is also often not treated at its earliest stages.
Untreated hearing loss often leads to social isolation, reduced awareness, frustration with communication, and general depression. Some studies originating from Johns Hopkins University and the work of Dr. Frank Lin suggest a link between hearing loss and cognitive problems ranging from mild impairment through dementia. In fact, it’s posited that untreated hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia from two times to five times.
The reasons for this increased risk are complicated but some experts believe the cognitive decline is caused by the extra effort or stress created when a person with hearing loss tries to complete unheard conversational snippets. Another factor for cognitive decline in hearing impaired persons may relate to their social isolation. As persons retreat from communicating, other structures of the brain may suffer from a lack of stimulation.
The study of hearing loss and cognitive decline also suggests that the treatment of hearing loss may help keep the brain activity and reduce social isolation. In turn, this can improve cognition and/or prevent rapid decline of brain function. The earlier the treatment, the better the results. If you or someone you know needs to always turn up the television or constantly asks you to repeat the conversation, then they may be suffering from early onset of hearing loss. At that point, you should contact an audiologist and receive a baseline hearing test.
A proper evaluation by an audiologist provides the baseline from which a treatment plan can be developed. This plan will be personalized based on your test results, your specific needs, and your lifestyle. For example, if your treatment requires hearing aids, there are a wide range of styles available for a variety of budgets. While hearing aids have traditionally carried some social stigma, technological and design improvements have created aids that are less intrusive and easier to control. While using a hearing aid is a process that may take time to adjust to, an overwhelming percentage of persons who use them report great improvements in their personal relationships, self-esteem, job performance, and overall quality of life. Taking the steps now to improve your hearing will reap benefits for you and your loved ones for the rest of your years.