Untreated hearing loss can affect more than your ability to feel safe, confident and independent in the world. It’s also been associated with increased struggles with depression and anxiety, can affect your balance and has been connected with increased risk of developing dementia.
”People have many reasons for not seeking support for hearing loss, including financial barriers, embarrassment and the belief that hearing loss is a ‘senior’ problem,” says Dr. Markus Hilbert, Au.D., Doctor of Audiology from Pardon Me Hearing in Kelowna. “What people don’t consider enough is that untreated hearing loss can lead to a huge array of problems, because your ears do more than ‘just hear.’”
On average, people wait five to seven years from the moment they start noticing hearing loss to actually getting tested, Hilbert says. However, getting tested sooner rather than later can offer big benefits.
“Since the 1990s, studies have shown that hearing aids play an important role in the overall health of individuals with hearing loss, regardless of age,” Hilbert says. “One area of new research in particular has shown that hearing aids can help reduce the onset dementia symptoms significantly enough to warrant additional research and encouragement for everyone with even minor hearing loss to seek hearing evaluation.”
Recent studies have suggested that dementia occurs less often in individuals with better hearing. One study found that 17 per cent of participants with moderate to severe hearing loss also had dementia, compared to just six per cent of those with normal hearing and nine per cent of those with mild hearing loss.
How do hearing aids help? Brain stimulation. Keeping our brain active as we age is vital to preventing dementia and hearing plays a big role in keeping our brains active and stimulated.
“The reduced auditory stimulation that occurs with hearing loss is believed to be one factor that increases the risk of developing dementia, along with other issues that go hand in hand with hearing loss, like decreased socialization and self-isolation,” Hilbert says.
Of all our senses, hearing is so vital to maintaining independence as we age, Hilbert says. Investing in your hearing from a young age is really an investment in your long-term independence and it needs to start long before hearing loss becomes a problem. People over 50 should be tested annually or biannually, and if your hearing exceeds 40 dB on the audiogram chart, you should be wearing hearing aids. Some say that even fitting mild losses can benefit brain function through ongoing stimulation but a moderate loss exceeding 40 dB is a good rule of thumb to invest in hearing aids.