dangers of untreated hearing loss

Are you having more difficulty hearing than you were a year ago? Or even a few months ago? You may not even realize you’re missing out on conversations. And, you’re probably not alone. That’s because it takes over 10 years for most people to recognize and admit to a hearing loss. And a lot of damage is done during that time.

While the brain becomes smaller with age in all of us, a 2014 study out of John Hopkins University shows a faster decline in older adults with hearing loss – especially in regions involved in processing sound and speech. According to Dr. Frank Lin, the basic principle of “use it or lose it” may apply. What’s more, Lin said, these regions play a role in memory and information processing.

Furthermore, hearing loss is now linked to cognitive diseases. According to several major studies, older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia compared to those with normal hearing, and the risk only increases as the hearing loss progresses. Those with a mild hearing loss are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia as those with normal hearing, the risk increases threefold for those with moderate hearing loss, and fivefold for those with a severe hearing loss.

Hearing loss may be an early warning sign or red flag for other health conditions including diabetes and heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Poor cardiovascular health causes inadequate blood flow throughout your body, and one of the first signs of a problem is blood vessel trauma to your inner ear. This trauma, which results in damage to the fragile hearing nerves, is also more common in those with type 2 diabetes.

Hearing loss can also have a significant impact on everyday life. The National Council on Aging studied the consequences of untreated hearing loss and found an increase in sadness, frustration, embarrassment, anxiety, anger, insecurity and loss of self-confidence. Untreated hearing loss has even been shown to have a negative correlation with income to the tune of roughly $12,000 a year, depending on the degree of hearing loss. And, because hearing plays a role in balance, people with mild hearing loss are three times more likely to have a history of falling than people with normal hearing: especially disturbing since falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in people over the age of 65.

Whether enhancing your quality of life or helping to protect against potential catastrophic health consequences linked to unaddressed hearing loss, the case for early diagnosis and treatment is strong. It is recommended for those over the age of 50 to have your hearing tested annually. After all, better hearing really is better living.

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