Some people think hearing loss is just a part of the aging process. It's inconvenient, sure... but is is it really harmful? Actually, it can be. Untreated hearing loss has been proven to have serious emotional and social consequences for older persons.
In conjunction with Healthy Aging month, we want to highlight this connection in hopes that more awareness will result in more seniors having their hearing checked – and treated.
The hearing loss–depression link
Hearing loss affects all age groups, but the risk goes up significantly as we get older. While about 8% of people in 40-49 age group have some degree of hearing loss, that number jumps to 39% in the age 60-69 bracket. Men are about twice as likely as women to have hearing loss.
Source: National Institutes of Health
In a study conducted to assess the effects of hearing loss on quality of life, the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) surveyed 2,300 hearing-impaired adults age 50 and over. The results showed that, compared to those who wear hearing aids, those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, and paranoia – and were less likely to participate in organized social activities. And it stands to reason. When communication is difficult, life becomes stressful. That stress causes some people to isolate themselves socially. And social isolation leads to depression, especially in older adults.
Understanding the consequences
While hearing loss is just one factor that can contribute to feelings of social isolation and depression, The NCOA survey found that seniors who treated their hearing loss (used hearing aids) fared much better. Of those who have severe hearing loss:
30% of hearing aid non-users reported feelings of sadness or depression that lasted two or more weeks, compared to 22% of hearing aid users.
36% of hearing aid non-users agreed with the statement "people get angry with me usually for no reason" – vs. 14% of users.
Only 32% of hearing aid non-users regulary participate in social activities, vs. 42% of hearing aid users.
What is the disconnect?
With such clear data, you might wonder why there still seems ot be such a barrier to hearing aid use. In almost all cases, it's a perceived stigma – or simply outdated information. In the NCOA study, the most common reasons respondents cited for not using hearing aids were that "their hearing wasn't bad enough," that hearing aids are cost-prohibitive, or that they are embarrassed to wear one.
In reality, a hearing test will reveal the true state of a person's hearing. Insurance covers many hearing devices, and today's innovative hearing aid designs are much sleeker and discreet than those of the past. Urge a loved senior to have their hearing checked regularly; it may do more for them than you think.