If you are like me, hearing loss has become a reality of aging. The National Institutes of Health estimates that 40–50% of adults over the age of 65 years have a measureable hearing impairment, rising to 83% for age 70 plus. This makes hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic medical condition among older adults, after arthritis and hypertension.
Early identification and treatment of a potential hearing loss helps minimize risks later in life. Besides the inability to hear sounds in nature and spoken communication, researchers have discovered a number of impacts from hearing loss that have significant consequences for the aging brain.
For starters, older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop problems thinking and remembering than older adults whose hearing is normal, according to a study by hearing experts at Johns Hopkins. The theory is that “degraded hearing” may force the brain to devote too much of its energy to processing sound, at the expense of memory and thinking.
Another potential consequence of hearing loss, according to these same researchers, is that the hard of hearing are significantly more likely to develop dementia and other cognitive problems. In the study, volunteers with hearing loss had cognitive abilities that declined 30 to 40 percent faster than in those whose hearing was normal. Individuals with moderate to severe hearing loss are up to 5 times as likely to develop dementia.
Based on these studies, Johns Hopkins hearing researcher Frank Lin, M.D. notes that hearing loss “should not be considered an inconsequential part of aging, because it may come with some serious long-term consequences to healthy brain functioning”.
There are also mental health consequences related to hearing loss. People who can’t hear well tend to become socially isolated. A study by The National Council on Aging of 2,300 hearing impaired adults found that people with untreated hearing loss were more likely to experience loneliness, worry, depression, anxiety, and paranoia. They were less likely to participate in social activities. When a person withdraws socially, their risk for dementia intensifies.
And let’s be honest: it can be frustrating to spend time – or to try to talk on the phone – with someone who has hearing loss, leading to a decline in the quality of relationships.
So first things first: get your hearing tested. Adults should be screened for hearing loss every decade through age 50 and at three-year intervals in between according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. And if you could benefit from hearing aids, it is worth the investment. Numerous studies show that hearing aids not only improve a person’s hearing, they also help preserve a person’s independence.
If you struggle to use the phone due to hearing loss, plan to attend a free presentation to learn about an option to have your phone calls captioned at no cost. ClearCaptions is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certified telephone captioning provider. Their captioning service is paid for through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a fund which established the Telecommunications Relay Service. There is no cost for captioning service to qualified individuals whose hearing loss inhibits their phone use.
The presentation is on Thursday, February 20 at 2 pm at the Stillwater site of Community Thread. Please register by calling 651-439-7434.
If you have hearing loss, come and learn more about this service. A closed caption phone could make a real difference. Your community needs you to stay connected and your brain will thank you as well.