By Dr. Liz Rogers
Did you know more than 48 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss, but the average person waits 7 years before seeking treatment? You try to compensate by standing closer to the person you are talking to, focusing harder on the speaker’s face for visual cues, and even asking the speaker to repeat themselves multiple times. But when this becomes too burdensome or embarrassing, you begin to withdraw, isolate yourself, and may even forego many social activities that were once enjoyable. By the time you come to see me you have been suffering for years.
While you may be trying to put off hearing the phrase “You need hearing aids” for as long as possible, there is a growing amount of research suggesting waiting to seek treatment for your hearing loss could be far more detrimental to your overall health. Hearing loss affects more than just the ears. An untreated hearing loss puts you at a significantly higher risk for developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and falling.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s
We know when your brain is not receiving the adequate stimulation it needs from your ear, the nerve fibers in your brain begin to atrophy and die. When this starts to happen, you increase your risk of developing dementia. This begins at the first signs of hearing loss. In fact, you are TWICE as likely to be diagnosed with dementia even with a minimal hearing loss, and this risk only increases as your hearing becomes worse. Dementia is a horrible and heartbreaking disease for patients and families to go through. When you seek treatment for your hearing loss, you are greatly reducing your risk of this terrible diagnosis.
Did you know falling is the number one cause of injury and death in older adults? Medical expenses from older adults falling reaches over $30 billion every year. Many people do not know that the ear and the balance system are connected. When you have an untreated hearing loss your brain and balance system are not receiving critical information about objects near your feet (i.e. a pet), you have decreased spatial awareness, and an increase in cognitive load. All of these things lend to a THREE FOLD increased risk of falling.
The CDC estimates more than 29 million people in the US have been diagnosed with Diabetes and another 86 million have prediabetes. Diabetes can have a significant impact on your ears. Hearing loss is TWICE as common in patients with Diabetes. Why? Because high blood sugar levels damage the nerves and blood vessels in your ears. The ear is incredibly sensitive to blood and oxygen changes. When the ear does not receive what it needs, the resulting damage ultimately leads to hearing loss.
Why does all of this matter? I hear my patients say all too often, “My hearing isn’t bad enough,” “I hear normal for my age,” or “I will wait until I am deaf to do something.” As I have discussed, hearing loss affects so much more than just the ears. Your risks of cognitive decline and falling can be greatly reduced with appropriate hearing aid treatment. Hearing aids are not the large beige bananas that constantly whistle of your grandparents’ time. Today, they are sleek, discreet, and are Bluetooth compatible meaning you can stream phone calls, music, and more directly to your hearing aids. In addition to treating your hearing loss with sophisticated technology, we are also treating your whole body. Southeast Kentucky Audiology offers FREE hearing screenings so you can get a baseline test, with no obligation. Don’t wait any longer to keep your ears, body, and brain active and healthy!