The Risk of Untreated Hearing Loss

Because hearing loss occurs so slowly over a prolonged period of time, it often goes untreated.

When people notice changes in their hearing, they probably understand the annoyance and frustration of struggling through conversations. They may even realize that they aren’t connecting with their loved ones the way that they used to. While these risks are serious and important, there are also many hidden risks of living with untreated hearing loss. In fact, untreated hearing loss holds risks in many areas of our lives, including our cognitive, emotional and physical health.
woman with hearing loss trying to hear the tv

Untreated Hearing Loss on our Cognitive Health

When left untreated, hearing loss can have a profoundly negative impact on our cognitive health. Preserving cognitive health is of top importance for most older adults, and treating hearing loss could be one way to do this.

friends laughing

Dementia & Alzheimer’s Disease

Untreated hearing loss actually carries with it an increased risk of developing dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. One of the most famous studies on the issue came out of Johns Hopkins University in 2011. The researchers concluded that over the course of the study, participants with mild hearing loss were two times as likely as their peers without hearing loss to have developed dementia. Those with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely and those with severe hearing loss were an astounding five times as likely to have developed dementia than those without hearing loss (Lin et al, 2011). 

Throughout the last decade, many follow-up studies have concluded similar results. Untreated hearing loss is directly correlated with an increased risk for developing dementia.

cognitive decline

Memory

Even if issues with memory do not escalate to the point of developing dementia, untreated hearing loss can still have a negative impact on memory and problem solving. One study out of the National Center for Health Statistics found that those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than adults with normal hearing. They also developed impairments in their cognitive abilities sooner than those without hearing loss - about 3.2 years sooner on average! Those with untreated hearing loss saw a cognitive decline in their thinking and remembering abilities at a rate 30-40% faster than those with normal hearing.
brain atrophy

Brain Atrophy

Untreated hearing loss not only affects our memory and thinking abilities. In recent studies, those with untreated hearing loss saw an accelerated rate of brain atrophy, about one cubic centimeter more per year (Johns Hopkins Medicine 2014).

Untreated Hearing Loss on Our Emotional & Mental Health

Untreated hearing loss can take a real and measurable toll on our emotional health as well. Those with untreated hearing loss are more likely to report issues with depression, anxiety, and other emotional issues than their peers without hearing loss. The prevalence and severity of these issues also tends to increase with the severity of the hearing loss. On top of this, those with untreated hearing loss are more likely to experience social isolation than those with normal hearing (Kochkin & Rogin, 2000). Scientists have long understood that social isolation is a key risk for the development of depressive symptoms as well as other issues such as cognitive decline.
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hearing loss and mental health

Untreated Hearing Loss on Our Physical Health

Untreated hearing loss can also take its toll on our physical well being. One of these ways is through an increased risk of trips and falls that result in serious injury. Studies have found that people with even the most mild hearing loss are three times more likely to have a history of falling than those without hearing loss (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2012). The risk of falling continues to increase as untreated hearing loss worsens. In fact, the risk of falling increases a whopping 140% for each increase in hearing loss of only 10 decibels.

Because untreated hearing loss also causes people to choose to spend more time at home and away from people, they may also exercise less often. Exercise is, of course, profoundly positive for our overall health and well-being. It has been found that walking only two hours a week can have a positive impact on our hearing.

friends being active outside
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