Communication challenges leading to social anxiety, social withdrawal and depression are only the tip of the iceberg. Research over the past several decades has led to substantial evidence linking untreated hearing loss to several other health conditions.
It has now been established that untreated hearing loss is associated with a decrease in cognitive functioning. A longitudinal study performed by Amieva et al. in 2015 found that older adults with untreated hearing loss showed higher rates of cognitive decline compared to older adults of the same age, gender and education level who were fit with hearing aids.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, research has shown that untreated hearing loss is linked to depression. A study conducted by the National Counsel on Aging (NCOA) in 1999 determined that individuals suffering from untreated hearing loss are more susceptible to negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness and insecurity. Communication challenges resulting from untreated hearing loss lead to social isolation and decreased confidence and self-esteem. The good news is that those who do seek help for their hearing loss notice a marked improvement in communication and therefore a reduction of those negative emotions leading to a decreased likelihood of depression.
Research over the past several decades has led to substantial evidence linking untreated hearing loss to several other health conditions.
A correlation between diabetes and hearing loss has also been established; however, the exact rationale for this remains unknown. One theory suggests that high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes may lead to damage to the blood vessels and nerves of the inner ear, similarly to how diabetes can be damaging to many other parts of the human body.
Similarly, there is evidence to suggest a link between cardiovascular disease and hearing loss. The inner ear is highly-vascularized, containing many blood vessels. Therefore, it is especially sensitive to blood flow and any abnormalities in the cardiovascular system. A study published in the Laryngoscope in 2009 found that audiogram patterns strongly correlate with cerebrovascular and peripheral arterial disease. Specifically, low-frequency sensorineural hearing losses were found to be associated with these cardiovascular diseases.
Lastly, a relationship between untreated hearing loss and dementia has been observed. For many years, researchers have theorized that social isolation resulting from untreated hearing loss contributes to the development of dementia. A study by the Lancet Commissions completed in July of 2017 confirmed that untreated hearing loss is associated with an increased risk for dementia due to the effects of untreated hearing loss on the brain. They found that when hearing loss is left untreated, this leads to decreased stimulation of the auditory nerve, resulting in decreased stimulation of the auditory cortex of the brain and consequently an increased risk of dementia. Fortunately, the study determined that when hearing loss is treated with amplification, the individual’s risk for dementia is similar to those with normal hearing.
Amieva, H. et al. (2015). Self-reported hearing Loss, hearing aids, and cognitive decline in elderly adults: A 25-Year study. Journal of American Geriatrics Society, 63, 2099-2104.
Bainbridge, K. E., Hoffman, H.J., & Cowie, C.C. (2008). Diabetes and hearing impairment in the United States: Audiometric evidence from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 to 2004. Annals of Internal Medicine, 149, 1-10.
The Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss in Older Persons. Conducted by the Seniors Research Group – The National Counsel on Aging (1999).
Friedland, Cederberg & Tarima (2009). Audiometric pattern as a predictor of cardiovascular status: Development of a model for assessment of risk. The Laryngoscope, 119, 473-786.
Livingston, G. et al. (2017). Dementia prevention, intervention, and care. The Lancet Commissions, Published Online July 20, 2017 http://dx/doi.org/10/1016/S0140 6736(17)31363-6.
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