When someone says hearing loss, you naturally think about ears, and why not? Clearly, a person with hearing loss has a problem with the elements of the ear. If you injure your leg, it doesn’t affect your hearing, right? While it is normal to connect hearing loss with your ears, it’s a little more complex issue. If you or someone you love has hearing loss, think about the other ways it changes a person’s life.
How Hearing Loss Affects the Brain
Technically, your ears are not the only organs injured if you suffer from the untreated hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss is the third most common chronic problem among seniors, right after hypertension and arthritis, and that’s a concern because of how it affects the brain.
Age-related hearing loss damages the hair cells found in the inner ear. They move in a way that creates an electrical message that the brain interprets as sound. Noise is something people experience all day long even when they try to avoid it. Quiet rooms still have sound in the background like the buzzing of a computer hard drive, for example, or the air conditioner running so quietly you fail to notice it. Even if you were able to eliminate all sound around you, there would still be the noise caused by your breathing.
In fact, your brain translates these impulses sent by the hair cells all day long, you just do not know it. When they disappear with the age-related hearing loss, the brain feels confused and tries to figure out what’s going on. Typically, a small amount of sound is still getting through, but the brain has to work harder to understand it, and that stress causes a number of medical problems.
Research shows that individuals with untreated hearing loss have an increased risk of dementia, for instance, maybe as much as fives times the risk. There is evidence when a person has difficulty hearing, their brain shrinks faster, and their cognitive function declines, too. The brain may try to use the area set aside for hearing for other things further decreasing your ability to hear.
Tinnitus or phantom noises is a side effect of diminished hearing. No one knows why this happens but one theory is that the brain is trying to create sound because it is missing it. If your mind is used to hearing a noise all the time and it slowly fades away, tinnitus could be an attempt to compensate for that loss.
Tinnitus has a negative impact on most lives. It can affect your ability to sleep or concentrate. It can lead to depression and other mental health issues, as well. It’s not easy living with that constant ringing or buzzing without getting stressed by it.
Hearing Loss and Relationships
Friends and family pointing out a decline in hearing can cause conflict. People don’t like being told they have hearing loss because it is a sign of aging. It is estimated that about 50 percent of older adult have problems with their hearing. It’s hard to accept, so when the subject comes up, there is denial and resentment.
A person who has hearing loss can begin to fade into the background, too. They stop socializing because they can’t follow conversations, so they feel stupid. Maybe they are worried about making other people angry by asking them to repeat things all the time. Friends might stop asking them to do things, too, because the conversation is too awkward.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measures the impact of hearing loss on quality of life using a measurement labeled disability-adjusted years. In other words, they measure how many fewer quality years come with this condition. They estimate that a person loses 2.5 healthy years with each year of hearing impairment.
Hearing Loss and Your Paycheck
There is some indication that hearing loss can lead to less money in the bank. A study conducted by the Better Hearing Institute found that people with hearing loss make up to 12,000 dollars less a year. Using hearing aids can mitigate the effects and lead to more money, though.
There is little doubt that the impact of hearing loss is significant in many areas of life including your physical and mental health. It’s not just about your ears, which is why it is so important to be aware of your hearing health and to get a professional exam and hearing test if you think there is a problem.