Effects of Untreated Hearing Loss
Chances are, if you’re reading about hearing loss, you’ve already been dealing with it for some time. Studies show, in fact, that people with progressive hearing loss wait an average of 5-15 years before seeking treatment (1). During those years, some undesirable things happen.
Medically speaking, the biggest problem with allowing hearing loss to go untreated may be a condition known as Auditory Deprivation (2). You see, microscopic hair cells in your inner ear vibrate with sound and send signals to your brain. When those hair cells are damaged, they create dead spots and they can’t transmit properly. These dead spots result in hearing loss at certain frequencies, and this is called auditory deprivation. Prolonged auditory deprivation may cause your brain to forget how to interpret auditory impulses, much like an unused muscle becomes weak over time. Damaged hair cells are irreparable. Even if these areas are stimulated again through noise amplification, the brain may no longer be able to interpret the noise. So “use it or lose it!” applies to your hearing sense as well.
Auditory deprivation was also mentioned in a recent Johns Hopkins study that shows a link between hearing loss and the development of dementia (3). The study was published in the February 2011 Archives of Neurology. It used data from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging (BLSA), which has tracked various health factors of thousands of men, women, and children over decades. About a quarter of the over 600 volunteers the study focused on had hearing loss at the start of the study, but none had dementia.
Participants were closely followed for nearly 20 years. Afterward, nearly 10% of them had developed dementia. Compared to those with normal hearing, participants with mild hearing loss were twice as likely to develop dementia over time. Those with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely. And those with severe hearing loss were five times as likely. In fact, the study shows that for every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the risk of developing dementia increases by 20 percent.
While further research is required to determine the exact reason why hearing loss and dementia are connected, auditory deprivation and the isolation inherent in hearing loss are two possible contributors proposed by the study.
Hearing loss is not just a physical problem. From a lifestyle point of view, hearing loss can create many negative effects, both on the individual with loss and his or her family, friends, or work associates. Individuals with hearing loss are more likely to experience:
- Tension, irritation, or frustration at communication difficulties
- Feelings of inadequacy in everyday interactions
- Fear of being ridiculed, pitied, or appearing less intelligent
- Feelings of being prematurely old, handicapped, or abnormal
- Tendency to avoid social gatherings, outdoor activities, even personal interactions
- Embarrassment at having to ask for repetitions or at not understanding conversations
- Physical fatigue from straining to hear
- Personal safety risks
The effects of hearing loss on the friends, family, and associates of an individual with loss might include:
- Relationship problems from misunderstandings. Someone with hearing loss may answer a question inappropriately or not at all, or may incorrectly hear requests, comments, or instructions leading to undesired action or inaction
- Significant others may be required to interpret for the individual with hearing loss causing stressful logistical and conversational difficulties
- Feelings of rejection or misunderstanding because of communication difficulties
- Feelings of guilt arising from not including an individual with hearing loss in conversation or activities
- Feelings of resentment at not being able to enjoy certain activities because of reclusive behavior of an individual with hearing loss
- Constant concern or anxiety about the safety of an individual with hearing loss
Benefits of Treatment
The good news is that many of these negative physical and lifestyle effects can be greatly diminished or even eliminated through proper treatment. Hearing aids can compensate for loss in targeted frequency ranges, so your brain maintains its ability to comprehend speech. They also provide auditory stimulation, which not only allows you to interact with loved ones again, but it may contribute to delaying or even preventing diseases like dementia.
There are certainly many ways in which treating your hearing is good for you physically. But the lifestyle benefits may make the largest difference. Those benefits keep expanding every time you don’t have to ask, “What?” and can instead enjoy a worry-free conversation.
So is hearing loss life threatening? Well, it won't stop your heart. But left untreated, hearing loss can certainly kill your quality of life. While we would really prefer you to get treatment at the AccuQuest center nearest you to renew your lease on life, the most important thing is to get treatment. Please, don't lose another important moment. Get on the path to better hearing today by calling 1-888-912-5566.
1) Rawool V.: Effectiveness of Informal Counseling on Acceptance of Hearing Loss Among Older Adults, The Hearing Review. 2009;16(6):22
2) Silman S, Gelfand S & Silveman C: Effects of monaural versus binaural aids. JASA 1984; 76 (11): 1357-1362
3) Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. (2011). Hearing loss and dementia linked in study. [Press release]. Retrieved from