Untreated Hearing Loss Linked To Decline In Brain Health

Chances are you know someone who has hearing loss and isn’t doing anything about it. They’re not alone. More than 48 million Americans have hearing loss and delay treatment for an average of seven years. Turning up the TV or asking others to repeat themselves is often an easy, quick fix for those with hearing loss, until they realize the collateral damage their untreated hearing loss has caused to themselves and even those around them.

Many people would probably act sooner if they realized that hearing loss goes far beyond their ears. It’s now linked to some pretty serious health issues with one major consequence — a decline in brain function.

Here are four health risks of untreated hearing loss:

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Accelerates cognitive decline

Did you know we hear with our brains and not our ears? That’s right. Our brain processes and makes sense of all of the sounds around us, including speech. Just like the muscles in our bodies, our brain needs to constantly be stimulated to stay healthy. It’s like that old saying, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” 

So what happens to your brain when you can’t hear well? The risk for cognitive decline and dementia increases. Here’s why.

Dr. Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins Medicine explains that hearing loss requires the brain to constantly put more energy into processing degraded sound, which leaves less energy for other tasks like memory, thinking and balance. And in fact, he’s even reported that untreated moderate hearing loss doubles the risk for dementia, and untreated severe loss triples it. Acting sooner than later is key to lowering your risk.

Fatigue and depression

When you can’t hear, and your brain is putting tons of effort into trying to understand speech and sound, it can leave you feeling abnormally fatigued. This can happen when watching TV, in conversations, group activities and more. 

A huge part of how we continue to thrive is through good hearing. When you can’t fully participate and understand what’s being said, it often leads to social withdrawal, self isolation and ultimately depression. Feeling connected to the world and the people we love is critical to aging well and staying social, active and happy. 

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Increased anxiety

Imagine not being able to understand conversations but having to attend a large social gathering. Or being asked something in front of a group of people, but you don’t understand what’s being said. Perhaps you resort to asking “Huh?” or “What?” all the time, or respond with something inappropriate because you misunderstood the conversation. If these are common occurrences, your confidence level will undoubtedly suffer while your anxiety level noticeably rises. 

Not hearing well can no doubt lead to a lot of anxiety and embarrassment. Many with hearing loss who have hearing aids now often admit to avoiding social outings and activities they loved because they were afraid of not being able to hear and fully participate, and being laughed at. And as mentioned above, this can lead to withdrawal, isolation and ultimately depression.

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Risk of falls 

We all take our balance for granted, until we lose it. It helps us perform simple daily activities like walking and driving. If it’s not there, it can really impact our overall well-being and even lead to debilitating falls. Falling at any age, but notably, as we get older, can hinder our independence and may also be life threatening. But, what does balance and falling have to do with hearing loss?

The American Association of Retired Persons ( AARP) shared that according to a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, there is a 30 percent greater risk for falls when compared with those who had no hearing loss. Seem far-fetched? It’s not. Dr. Lin explains that “As you walk, your ears pick up subtle cues that help with balance. Hearing loss mutes these important signals.” So without those signals, balance will deteriorate and increase the chance for falls.

Hear.com There is a 30% greater risk for falls when compared with those who had no hearing loss. Hear.com

Get a hearing test

If you or someone you know has trouble hearing, it’s important to talk to a professional and get a hearing test. It will help determine your level of hearing loss and what type of technology would best suit you and your lifestyle. 

Today’s hearing aids are far beyond what they were years ago. From tiny award-winning models that go inside or behind the ear to impressive features like ultra-fast sound processors, crystal-clear speech clarity, Bluetooth connectivity, rechargeability and much more, hearing better and in style has never been easier. 

A hear.com partner provider, Dr. Sheri Mello of Raleigh Hearing and Tinnitus Center, wants people to know that “It’s OK to admit you might have a problem and seek help. You have to do it. The brain muscle atrophies over time if not stimulated, so the longer you wait, the worse it gets. And eventually, it will be too late to treat. So get a hearing test now and protect the hearing you have left.

Hear.com It’s important to talk to a professional and get a hearing test. Hear.com

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