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The Hidden Costs of Hearing Loss

Hearing healthcare isn’t something we think about and maintain in the same way we do our vision, teeth, and other areas of wellness.  This is deeply rooted in our culture because of the stigma that goes along with hearing loss.  The truth is, however, that your hearing health is an important piece of your overall wellness, whether or not you have hearing loss, and should be assessed annually, especially if you are over age 50.

In our practice, we hear a lot of people say they are able to “get by” and that their hearing isn’t “that bad”.  Too many people wait too long (up to 7 years on average!) to address their hearing loss, and don’t realize the corresponding health issues they may be aggravating by doing so.  Here are a few things to consider:

 

Considerations About Your Health and Hearing Loss

 

  1. Dementia – One of the easiest risk factors to address in order to avoid early-onset dementia is hearing loss.  Scientists believe hearing loss contributes to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain.  It doesn’t help that people who can’t participate fully in conversation tend to socially isolate themselves, which also leads to a less-exercised brain, not to mention loneliness and depression.  In a study that followed over 600 people for 12 years, Johns Hopkins University found that mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk, moderate loss tripled the risk, and those with a severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia than their normal hearing peers.
  2. Falls – One of the most serious issues facing seniors is falling, and the injuries that result.  Balance naturally decreases as people age, due to a number of factors including muscle deterioration, arthritis, osteoporosis and reduced range of motion.  However, the central nervous system also plays an important role.  After the age of 50, the sensory cells in the ears’ balance system gradually decrease in number and do not regrow.  The nerves that carry important sensory information to the brain become less effective, which leads to problems in the way the brain processes complex motor functions.  This makes multi-tasking, and even walking, more difficult as we age.
  3. Diabetes – Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes, and researchers are still working on pinpointing why.  It is suspected that high glucose levels cause damage to the blood vessels in the inner ear, like they do to the eyes and kidneys.  But managing your hearing health can help you identify if you are at risk of diabetes.  Researchers have found that hearing loss is 30% more common in people with prediabetes than in those with typical blood sugar levels, so it can be an important early indicator.

These are just a few of the less obvious health factors to consider when we discuss hearing loss.  The human body is a complex network of systems that are all connected and interdependent, and our whole health benefits when all systems are performing at their best.  If you suspect that you or a loved one may have hearing loss, don’t wait to address it.  A simple hearing test and examination by a hearing professional can make a huge difference in your long-term wellness.


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