Audiology and Hearing Aid Services

Improving your hearing to improve your life

Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss

effects-untreated-hearing-loss.PNG The Hearing Bones connected to the what?

Hearing loss can have unwelcome companions—like heart disease; diabetes; chronic kidney disease; depression; cognitive decline, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease; increased risk of falling; increased hospitalizations.

In fact, as studies on the link between hearing loss and other health conditions mount, we’ve begun to see how our ears—and specifically how our hearing—connect to our whole body and health.

Cognitive Decline, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease

In 2011, John Hopkins announced a study that showed a direct link between hearing loss and dementia. "Seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing." (Hearing Loss and Dementia Linked in Study, John Hopkins, News Release, Feb 14, 2011) Here are some basic facts about the research on dementia and hearing loss:

  • Researchers followed 639 men and women for over a decade.
  • Both hearing and cognitive abilities were tested in the beginning and at 1-2 year intervals throughout the study.
  • As compared to those with no hearing loss, people with untreated hearing loss had anywhere from two to five times more risk of developing dementia depending on the severity of their hearing loss.

Though the exact cause remains unknown, it may have to do with the strain of decoding sounds over years that may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss that is untreated, or it may be the social isolation that accompanies hearing loss.

  • In a separate study in 2015, results found that individuals who reported using hearing aids had much better mental function (as measured on a standardized test for cognition) than those who reported that they had hearing loss but did not use hearing aids.
    • The research stated their, "finding may offer a starting point for interventions — even as simple as hearing aids — that could delay or prevent dementia by improving patients’ hearing."  (Hearing Loss and Dementia Linked in Study, John Hopkins, News Release, Feb 14, 2011)

Lifestyle Changes May Prevent Up to One-Third of Dementia Cases, article by Hearing Review

Hearing Can Lead to Better Thinking...The Wall Street Journal 2019  https://www.wsj.com/articles/better-hearing-can-lead-to-better-thinking-11549508460

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Depression

study by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) shows that more than 11 percent of those with hearing loss also had depression, as opposed to only 5 percent in the general population. Depression was most prevalent in those between the ages of 18 and 69.

“We found a significant association between hearing impairment and moderate to severe depression," said Dr. Chuan-Ming Li, a researcher at NIDCD and the author of the study. The study does not confirm the nature of the cause-and-effect of the connection.

Job 

Research by the non-profit Better Hearing Institute (BHI), looking into the “impact of untreated hearing loss on household income”, resulted in many interesting findings. 

  • For instance, it found that the use of hearing aids in people with hearing loss “reduced the risk of income loss” by between 65 and 100 percent, depending on the severity of hearing loss; that people with untreated hearing loss had double the unemployment rate as hearing-aided peers.

Social isolation

Untreated hearing loss has serious emotional and social consequences for older persons, according to a major new study by The National Council on the Aging (NCOA). The study was conducted by the Seniors Research Group, an alliance between NCOA and Market Strategies, Inc.

"This study debunks the myth that untreated hearing loss in older persons is a harmless condition," said James Firman, EdD, president and CEO of The National Council on the Aging. The survey of 2,300 hearing impaired adults age 50 and older found that those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia and were less likely to participate in organized social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids.

The survey found that significantly more of the seniors with untreated hearing loss (those who do not wear hearing aids) reported feelings of sadness or depression that lasted two or more weeks during the previous years. Among respondents with more severe hearing loss, 30 percent of non-users of hearing aids reported these sad feelings, com-pared to 22 percent of hearing aid users.

Increased risk of falling

In 2012, a study by Johns Hopkins Medicine determined that untreated hearing loss can also increase the risk of falling. Using data from several national health surveys, researchers found that people with mild hearing loss were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling. 

While more studies need to be done, one possible explanation they had for the increased risk of falls is a that a person with untreated hearing loss has less awareness of their overall environment, so are more susceptible to tripping and falling. 

Increased hospitalizations 

Elham Mahmoudi, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, the corresponding author on a recent study that evaluated the use of hearing aids among 1,336 adults after 65 or older with self-reported hearing loss, said their main finding was that while using hearing aids reduces the likelihood of emergency room visits and hospitalization, it also increases overall health care costs for users.

The very best thing to do for hearing loss is to find out if you have it as soon as possible. Then take it seriously. If deemed appropriate by a qualified hearing health care professional, treat it. Hearing aids can benefit the vast majority of people with hearing loss.

Other Linked Health Conditions...

Heart Disease

Wisconsin researchers found that people with a history of heart disease were on average 54 percent more likely to have impaired cochlear function than adults without CVD.

Not only that, but international research shows that some of the factors that cause CVD can also put our hearing at risk. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity have also been linked in studies to loss of hearing – in addition to other serious complications, of course, such as heart attacks and strokes.

So what does your heart health have to do with your hearing? It’s all about blood flow. Studies have shown that good circulation plays a role in maintaining good hearing health. Conversely, inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss.

That’s because the delicate hair cells in the cochlea, which play an important role in translating the noise your ears collect into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret as recognizable sound, rely on good circulation. Poor circulation robs these hair cells of adequate oxygen, causing damage or destruction. Because these hair cells do not regenerate, it results in permanent hearing loss.

In a study published in the June 2010 issue of the American Journal of Audiology, authors Raymond H. Hull and Stacy R. Kerschen reviewed research conducted over the past 60 years on cardiovascular health and its influence on hearing health. Their findings confirm that impaired cardiovascular health negatively affects both the peripheral and central auditory system, especially in older adults.  

Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes and hearing loss have been medically linked for many years: A study funded by the National Institutes of Health indicates that hearing loss is about twice as common in adults with diabetes compared to those who do not have the disease

How are diabetes and hearing loss correlated? Researchers believe that hearing impairment in diabetics is caused by damage to the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear, the same damage that causes infections of the feet and damage to the eye's retina.

Chronic Kidney Disease

The most recent study, reported this month in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, indicates that older people who suffer from moderate chronic kidney disease (CKD) may require screening and treatment for hearing loss.

Australian researchers examined the medical records of 2,564 people aged 50 and over, 513 of whom had moderate chronic kidney disease. Some 54.4 percent of all the patients with chronic kidney disease  had some degree of hearing loss, as compared to 28.3 percent of those who had no kidney problems. Severe hearing loss affected nearly 30 percent of the CKD patients, compared to only 10 percent of the others.

Also, some treatments for kidney ailments can affect hearing.

Of course, this doesn't mean that if you have kidney disease, your hearing capacity will be automatically diminished. However, to be on a safe side, experts suggest having your hearing tested if you have been diagnosed with a kidney disorder, and even more so if you are treated with medications that can potentially damage hearing.