The Benefits of Treating Hearing Loss
Even though hearing loss is a common condition among older Americans (one in three people, age 65 and older), it takes an average of seven years before people decide to seek treatment. In this time, untreated hearing loss could cause a number of adverse consequences to various areas of one’s life, from earning power to health to interpersonal relationships.
In treating hearing loss, there are a number of social, emotional, and medical benefits: improved job performance and earning power, strengthened interpersonal relationships, improved cognitive function, improved personal safety and security, and reduced risk for emotional issues such as fatigue, depression, stress, and anxiety – to name a few!
Though hearing loss is an “invisible” condition because its effects are not physically evident, it does affect many far-reaching areas of our lives. The early identification and treatment of hearing loss – commonly with the use of hearing aids – brings many palpable benefits to a person’s life.
Economic Benefits of Treating Hearing Loss
An estimated 60% of people in the US workforce experience some degree of hearing loss. In an analysis of income levels of people with hearing loss (both treated and untreated) of similar employment, marital status, age, gender, and lifestyle, it was found that “people with moderate to profound hearing loss, who did not use hearing aids, experienced household incomes $5,000 to $6,000 less than their counterparts who did use hearing aids.”
For people with untreated hearing loss, speech recognition is one of the main challenges. We can see how this could affect our performance in the workplace. Business meetings, conferences, and even lunch meetings in busy, noisy restaurants could pose a challenge. It may difficult to focus on speakers’ voices when there is the interference of background noise. Untreated hearing loss could also contribute to issues with productivity and concentration in the workplace.
For younger, school-aged Americans, hearing loss could affect academic performance. Young people with untreated hearing loss will benefit with treatment early on, as it could shape their academic experiences – which later in life could help with employment opportunities.
Benefits to Your Interpersonal Relationships
“…the number one cited relationship that suffered was the one with their romantic partner (35%), followed by friends, family members and coworkers.”
As we all know, the foundation of a healthy relationship is communication. Communication is key in our relationships with our spouse or partner, our family members, our friends, our acquaintances, and our colleagues When we first begin to experience hearing loss, we may notice that speech understanding is difficult. For example, we may ask people to repeat themselves – which could cause frustration and strain in any relationship. Certain kinds of hearing loss make it difficult to understand higher-frequency voices (especially that of women and children).
When it comes to romantic relationships, communication is particularly important. Communicating our needs and desires, as well as our joys and our problems, are how we connect to one another. Listening and hearing one another is the bedrock of strong relationships. If one or more people in a relationship experience hearing loss, it could jeopardize the health of the relationship. A survey from May 2015 found that “of the 27 million U.S. adults with hearing loss, the number one cited relationship that suffered was the one with their romantic partner (35%), followed by friends, family members and coworkers.” Furthermore, Social Work Today reported that adults experiencing hearing loss “develop ways to cope with and manage hearing loss in their daily lives,” which includes incorporating a number of negative responses and a change in personality, such as becoming more irritable, anxious, or avoidant.
With untreated hearing loss, communication could become confusing and annoying. We may have to repeat ourselves or ask our partners to repeat themselves multiple times. We may have to ask questions repeatedly, making the other person feel like they are not being heard. Treating hearing loss and using hearing aids helps clarify speech, making communication much easier with our loved ones.
This is the case for all of our interpersonal relationships – from our neighbors to our good friends to our colleagues at work. Treating hearing loss helps us avoid the social isolation that comes with hearing loss – feeling out of the loop in a conversation, misunderstanding what’s being said, or missing jokes in a big group.
By treating hearing loss, improved speech recognition helps our relationships and allow us contribute to conversations and stay in touch with our social circles.
Cognitive Health Benefits of Treating Hearing Loss
Though many of us may think of hearing loss as something that affects our ears, the reality is that hearing loss happens in the brain. While our ears pick up sound waves, it is our brains that register sound. For this reason, untreated hearing loss could lead to complications with our cognitive abilities.
In the past few years, researchers have studied the link between (untreated) hearing loss and the effects on our cognitive abilities. In particular, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found a potential link between untreated hearing loss and dementia. Their findings suggest that hearing loss causes lessened engagement in areas of the brain that were previously engaged in processing and analyzing sound. At the same time, they found that struggling to hear and attempting to make sense of muddled sounds could lead to a heavier burden to the brain – a heavier “cognitive load.”
A 2011 study from Johns Hopkins tracked 639 subjects over a span of 12 to 18 years, monitoring the relationship between their hearing ability and cognitive abilities. Over the years, participants were tested for their cognitive abilities, while also having their hearing abilities monitored. Researchers found that participants with poorer hearing abilities or hearing loss that was untreated exhibited an increased risk of developing dementia.
The Good News:
Treating hearing loss with the use of hearing aids could help preserve our cognitive abilities. A 2011 study from Japan found that participants who treated their hearing loss with hearing aids performed at a higher level in cognitive tests compared to participants who did not use hearing aids.
Benefits to Your Security and Sense of Independence
Our sense of hearing developed with our ancient ancestors as a way to survive. In a time before the conveniences of technology, hearing kept us safe in low-light situations. A rustle of leaves might suggest a predator nearby, for example.
These days, our sense of hearing keeps us safe by alerting us to changes in our environment. Fire alarms, signals at railroad crossings, car horns, and storm warnings are all sounds that are designed to alert us of impending danger. By treating hearing loss, we increase our ability to catch these sounds in our daily activities.
Even more, treating hearing loss keeps us safe by reducing the risk for falls and accidents. A 2012 study from Johns Hopkins revealed that “for every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the risk of falling increases by 1.4-fold.” This could be due to the link between our balance (vestibular) system and our auditory system. Within our ears, there is a system of fluids and tubes that regulate our balance and relationship to gravity. With hearing loss, it may be difficult to locate sounds within our environment and could throw us off balance. The use of hearing aids gives us a clearer sound picture of our environment, ensuring our safety.
A 2015 study from Finland revealed that people with hearing loss have limited life space and limited movement within local areas. The study found that “people wo experienced hearing problems in different everyday situations moved less within their local areas than those who considered their hearing to be good. During the two-year monitoring period, the people who were hard of hearing were more than twice as likely as others to limit their movement only to nearby areas.” With the use of hearing aids, people are empowered and confident to go about their lives with a sense of security and independence.
Invest in Your Hearing Health – Get Your Hearing Tested!
Experiencing changes in your hearing may be difficult and challenging. In addition to being an isolating experience, untreated hearing loss can be harmful to your health and well-being if proper treatment is not acquired. The most common form of treatment is the prescription of hearing aids. Hearing aids reconnect you to the sounds you’ve been missing, and even more, they reconnect you to your loved ones. With hearing aids, you are more likely to re-engage socially and continue pursuing the activities and hobbies you enjoy.
If you’ve noticed changes in your hearing, take the first step toward better hearing health by scheduling a hearing test with your local audiologist or hearing specialist.