In the United States, more than one-quarter of people over age 60 live alone, according to a Pew Research Survey, and more than 43 percent of them reported feeling lonely even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it may feel difficult to get back into the swing of things there are stressors which can complicate the process of connecting with the people you love. For instance, one in three people over the age of 65 suffer from hearing loss – a condition which makes it hard to participate in everyday conversations, erodes the closeness in relationships and commonly leads to self-isolation.
This May is Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM), a national campaign led by ASHA (American Speech-language-Hearing Association) and the 2022 theme is “Connecting People”. The aim of BHSM is to raise awareness around the dangers of untreated hearing loss and promote the importance of treatment. This month we hope we can encourage you to take advantage of our services to improve the quality of your life and feel confident enough, with treatment to connect to the people in your life that you feel distant from, with a renewed sense of confidence.
Loneliness and Hearing Loss
It is estimated that one in eight people over the age of 12 suffer from hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing exams. This is due to a wide range of causes including changes to the ear as we age, exposure to loud noise, impact to the head, certain chemical exposures, and infection. As hearing declines, parts of words start to go missing making it difficult to follow conversation. It’s common for people to start to avoid social situations all together. A Dutch study found that with every decibel drop in perception of sound in people under 70, increases the odds of becoming severely lonely by 7%.
The Dangers of Loneliness
Humans are social creatures who feel togetherness, connection, and a sense of belonging by spending quality time with one another. When loneliness sets in it can trigger a cascade of detrimental health effects. In fact loneliness is considered as a factor for early mortality, as hazardous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Not only is loneliness and isolation increase the likeliness of feelings such as depression, anxiety, and suicide, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports “poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) are associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.” In addition, chronic loneliness is believed to increase the likeliness of developing terminal cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s by 50%.
Hearing Aids to Address Dementia
For decades, age-related hearing loss was rarely taken seriously as a serious medical condition. This allowed for most health insurance companies and Medicare to refuse to pay for treatments for hearing loss or even routine hearing tests. However continued research illuminates the far-reaching dangerous side effects which start with social isolation and quickly spread into significantly higher rates of dementia.
In 2019 Johns Hopkins University scientists launched the first major randomized controlled trial to determine whether hearing treatment could prevent – or slow — cognitive decline. Currently there is no cure for dementia so identifying hearing loss as a serious factor in likeliness of dementia is a significant step forward towards hearing health advocacy. “Hearing loss is really linked with loneliness,” says Frank Lin, director of Johns Hopkins’ Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health.
Early results of the study report that hearing aids helped reduce patients’ dementia symptoms and “lifted a veil that allowed them to be connected with life in a renewed way.”
Despite conclusive results it seems clear that if you have even a suspected hearing loss it’s important to test annually to monitor for decline. Hearing aids are the most popular treatment for hearing loss, enhancing the sounds you struggle with and improving your connections with the people you love. Even so, t only about 20% of older Americans with hearing loss wear hearing aids, leaving more than 23 million older adults with untreated problems. This May take advantage of BHSM and schedule a hearing exam with us today.