Does this sound familiar? My 74-year-old father has a problem that is becoming a family problem. He knows he has lost some hearing but will not consider hearing aids. My mother is tired of shouting at him and listening to the blaring TV in the background. She's on edge, and my siblings and I don't look forward to visiting our parents.
Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, affects two out of three adults 70 and older, and is a normal feature of aging. Nevertheless, age-related hearing loss can be a significant health risk, and when it is, hearing aids are an effective treatment.
Know the risks of untreated hearing loss
If someone dear to you has lost hearing and is reluctant to get help, be sure your loved one is aware of the risks of ignoring hearing loss, risks that go far beyond the struggle to hear. Three proven consequences of untreated hearing loss that help motivate people to seek treatment are:
First, some context: Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults age 65 and older, and the age-adjusted fall death rate is increasing. In the US, about 36 million falls are reported among older adults each year — resulting in more than 32,000 deaths. One out of every five falls causes an injury, such as broken bones or a head injury.
People with hearing loss fall more. Based on data from thousands of participants, researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that even a mild hearing loss triples the risk of falling. Researchers at the University of Michigan, analyzed 115,000 seniors recently diagnosed with hearing loss (but otherwise healthy). They found that 13 percent had an injury from a fall within three years, compared to 7.5 percent of the general population their age.
If you have lost hearing, you can reduce your risk of falling by using hearing aids.
2. Social Isolation
Keeping up in conversations is difficult if you can't hear well. It's predictable: People stop talking with people who can't maintain a two-way conversation. As a result, those with untreated hearing loss become more and more socially isolated. Social isolation is psychologically unhealthy and can lead to depression.
Why risk depression when you can treat hearing loss with hearing aids?
Researchers at Johns Hopkins, led by Frank Lin, MD, found that people with mild, moderate, and severe hearing loss had twofold, threefold, and fivefold increased risk of dementia. It's clear: hearing loss is a significant risk factor for dementia.
Why would anyone risk losing their identity when hearing aids are an effective intervention?
Hearing loss is the largest modifiable risk factor for developing dementia, exceeding that of smoking, high blood pressure, lack of exercise and social isolation. —Jane Brody from The New York Times, December 30, 2019
Start with a hearing screening
For the undecided, scheduling a hearing screening with an audiologist is an excellent place to start. Audiologists know the psychology of hearing-aid reluctance well — and there’s no risk. Screenings are free for anyone 21 and older and performed by an audiologist at SSHC, so you can trust the results.
If there is a hearing loss, knowing how much, and what is at risk if left untreated can be a breakthrough for many people.
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