At the end of every year, we reflect on the past 365 days or so and start to put things into a longer perspective. It’s a natural way to divide our experiences in an attempt to better-understand them, as well as ourselves. If we’ve made our scheduled visits to our doctors, dentists, optometrists, and, yes, audiologists, we may wish to reflect on what they’ve had to say about the state of our health and imagine ways we can reach our goals regarding health and overall well-being.
It is said that “health is not merely the absence of disease.” There are many things that contribute to our sense of wellness, well-being, health, or whatever we might call it. Most of our new year’s resolutions are meant to improve our lives in some way, usually related to our sense of physical well-being. In fact, estimates say that somewhere between 60–95% of new year’s resolutions are fitness-related.
Hearing Health Is Health!
It’s likely that we’ve all had at least one older relative who didn’t want to acknowledge their hearing loss. We may have seen them struggle to carry on a conversation, while we knew that a set of hearing aids would have helped them to have an easier time connecting with friends, family, and their spouse.
What we may not have seen are the deeper problems their untreated hearing loss may have been causing them. Those with untreated hearing loss are at a significantly increased risk of loneliness, depression, and social isolation. They are more likely to be hospitalized, generally, and more likely to suffer accidental injuries. They tend to get less physical exercise, and spend an average of 34 more sedentary minutes per day, with the time increasing with the severity of hearing loss.
While hearing loss may once have been considered a relatively benign, if annoying, part of getting older, we now know that hearing loss tends to set off a kind of cascade of negative outcomes for health and well-being.
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline
Recent studies have determined that those with hearing loss are at a significantly increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. The risk, again, increases with the severity of hearing loss. Those with mild hearing loss are twice as likely to experience dementia. Those with moderate hearing loss have three times the risk. And those with severe to profound hearing loss have five times the risk of dementia.
While it is not yet known why hearing loss seems to promote dementia, there are a number of theories. It may be that the social isolation that tends to come with hearing loss deprives the brain of social interaction, which promotes dementia over time. Another theory has to do with “cognitive load,” wherein those with hearing loss tend to use more of their frontal cortex when trying simply to understand speech, a task normally performed automatically in the auditory cortex. A third theory has to do with the atrophy of the auditory cortex, which tends to shrink over time as it takes in less information from the ears.
Whatever the case may be, there is evidence mounting that hearing aids can help avoid the cognitive decline associated with hearing loss. The message is clear: To promote your best health and well-being, it’s important to pay attention to your hearing ability, and seek treatment for hearing loss!
Schedule a Hearing Test Today!
The Better Hearing Institute and The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) both recommend getting a hearing test once every decade until age 50, and once every three years after that. Those in high-risk industries, or with a medical history indicating a higher risk of hearing loss, should be tested even more frequently, ideally once a year.
Hearing tests aren’t only about determining when to start treating hearing loss—though they are definitely about that! They also help determine whether you might have minor hearing loss (that is, hearing loss that doesn’t require hearing aids). The results of your hearing test can help your audiologist form an educated guess as to the cause of your hearing loss, which will allow you to make the changes necessary to avoid more hearing loss going forward. They may also refer you to a specialist who can diagnose and treat an underlying condition that may be causing hearing loss without your knowledge.
Make a resolution to focus on your hearing health in 2023, and schedule a hearing test today!