By Linda Tanaka, M.A./CCC-A
You may be suffering from hearing loss. A condition, that if left untreated, results in more than missing conversations that can result in feelings of social isolation, depression and risk of falls. Seniors with untreated hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing or treat their hearing loss early.
As we age, this condition can become increasingly significant. Additionally, there is a possible correlation between hearing loss and brain decline according to Dr. Franklin Lin, associate professor of Geriatric Medicine and Otolaryngology at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Over a six-year study (JAMA Internal Medicine. Frank R. Lin, MD, PHD. Hearing loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults (http://archinite.jamanetwork. com/article.aspx?articleid=1558452#qundefined), Dr. Lin observed 1984 adults with a median age of 77.4 years. Over the course of the study, tracking the progression of their cognitive function, he concluded that while further research was needed to identify the mechanics of how and why untreated hearing loss and cognitive decline are related, “There is little doubt that hearing loss is a factor in loss of mental acuity in older adults. Even subjects with mild untreated hearing loss were found to more likely experience cognitive failures.” Further, “declines in hearing abilities may accelerate gray matter atrophy and increase the listening effort necessary to comprehend speech. Hearing Aids may not only improve hearing, but preserve the brain.”
People with a 25 decibel hearing loss (classified as mild) were nearly three times more likely to have a history of falling than those with no hearing loss. Every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss translated to an increase in the risk of falling. One out of three adults age 65 and older fall each year and these falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries. Hearing loss decreases awareness of surroundings and environments and also increases cognitive load, in turn this raises the potential for falls.
While research is ongoing, the association between hearing loss and increased chance of falling is considered clinically significant. For the reasons above, it is reasonable to suggest that physicians inform their patients of the potential consequences of untreated hearing loss, and to advise their patients to have their hearing tested annually and wear hearing aids when recommended by their hearing care professional.