Treating Hearing Loss Helps You Stay Socially Connected
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic ailment in America. Some 48 million Americans experience some degree of hearing loss. While anyone can acquire hearing loss at any age, by far the most common type of hearing loss is age-related hearing loss—or presbycusis—which affects about one-third of those aged 60–74, and half of those aged 75 and up.
Despite the fact that hearing loss is incredibly common, it is still sorely undertreated. Only about one out of five people who need hearing aids is wearing them. On average, it takes a person seven years from the time they notice hearing loss to the time they do something about it and schedule a hearing test.
Putting Off Hearing Loss Treatment Comes at a Cost
Everyone seems to have their reasons for putting off getting hearing aids. We say things like,
- “Hearing aids will make me feel old.”
- “I’ll get hearing aids when my hearing gets worse.”
- “I can hear well enough for now.”
Do these excuses sound familiar?
The fact is that even mild hearing loss (defined as 25–40 dB of loss) comes with a host of problems. Those with mild hearing loss report having more memory issues than those with normal hearing, and they struggle at social gatherings where background noise may be present. Already with mild hearing loss, people begin to experience the early stages of “brain atrophy,” where the auditory cortex begins to shrink as it receives less information from the ears.
But the most noticeable effect of hearing loss—at any degree of severity—is the havoc it wreaks on our social lives.
Hearing Loss Causes Fatigue
It’s all too easy for those in denial about hearing loss to write off the fatigue they experience. “So I’m a little tired… So what?” In truth, that extra exhaustion isn’t so subtle when we consider its long-ranging effects on our social lives.
When we struggle to hear, we get tired more easily. Under normal circumstances, our brain automatically interprets the speech we hear and shunts it into short term memory. Then we use our frontal cortex to consider what we’ve heard, formulate a response, etc. In short, we’re able to carry on a conversation.
When hearing loss comes into the picture, we have to rely on our frontal cortex to help determine what was said. “Was that beach or peach?” Meanwhile, more speech is coming in and we start to fall behind. Of course, while we’re using the thinking part of our brain to try to figure out what we’re hearing, the conversation continues to roll on. We fall behind, and we try to play catch-up.
In other words, it’s not just that conversations make us a little more tired… It’s also that we don’t have the same quality of conversations, even before we find ourselves exhausted.
Hearing Loss Discourages Sociality and Physical Activity
All too often, after a few exhausting and unrewarding social outings, someone who is new to hearing loss will decline the next invitation. They might not even realize that it’s hearing loss preventing them from going out! They just remember that they didn’t have much fun the last time they went out.
Add to this the fact that hearing loss tends to be progressive. Most people will not continue to lose their hearing until they are completely deaf, but hearing loss will get worse for a while and then plateau. As hearing loss progresses, the social time we do spend becomes less and less satisfying, and even moving around the house can become a chore that doesn’t seem worth it. Indeed, those with untreated hearing loss tend to get significantly less physical activity than those with normal hearing or who wear hearing aids, in part because moving our bodies without the sonic cues that help us orient ourselves in space can be unsettling!
Hearing Aids Can Help
It doesn’t have to be this way! Hearing aids can help, and they’re better than ever. Today’s hearing aids help distinguish between speech and background sound, allowing us to focus in on the sound that’s important even when things get noisy. They connect wirelessly via Bluetooth to smartphones and other gadgets to stream phone calls and media. There is a hearing aid for every hearing need and lifestyle imaginable!
If you or a loved one is having hearing issues, don’t wait until things get “really bad” to do something about it! Make an appointment for a hearing test today and take charge of your hearing health!