Just like reading glasses and graying hair, hearing loss is just one of those things that many people accept as a part of the aging process. But a study from Duke-NUS Medical School shows a connection between hearing loss and overall health in older adults.
Senior citizens with hearing or vision loss often struggle more with depression, cognitive decline, and communication problems. You may have already read about that. But did you know that hearing loss is also linked to shorter life expectancy?
This study suggests that those with untreated hearing loss may enjoy “fewer years of life”. In addition, they found that if an untreated hearing loss occurred with vision impairments it nearly doubles the likelihood that they will have difficulty with activities necessary for daily living. It’s both a physical problem and a quality of life issue.
While this might sound like bad news, there is a silver lining: hearing loss for older adults can be treated through a variety of means. Even more important, getting tested can help uncover serious health concerns and spark you to take better care of yourself, which will improve your life expectancy.
Why Is Hearing Loss Connected with Poor Health?
While the research is compelling, cause and effect are still unclear.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins note that older adults with hearing loss tended to have other issues, like high rates of smoking, increased heart disease, and stroke.
These findings make sense when you know more about the causes of hearing loss. Many cases of hearing loss and tinnitus are tied to heart disease since high blood pressure affects the blood vessels in the ear canal. When the blood vessels are shrunken – which can be caused by smoking – the blood in the body has to work harder to keep the ears (and everything else) working which leads to higher blood pressure. Older adults with heart problems and hearing loss often experience a whooshing sound in their ears, which can be caused by high blood pressure.
Hearing loss has also been linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of cognitive decline. Hearing specialists and other health professionals believe there are several reasons why the two are connected: for one, the brain has to work harder to distinguish words in a conversation, which leaves less mental capacity to actually process the words or do anything else. In other cases, many people with hearing loss tend to be less social, usually due to the difficulty they have in communicating. This social isolation leads to depression and anxiety, which can have a severe impact on a person’s mental health.
How Older Adults Can Treat Hearing Loss
There are several options available to treat hearing loss in older adults, but as the studies show, it is best to tackle these issues early before they impact your overall health.
Hearing aids are one form of treatment that can work wonders in combating your hearing loss. There are several different types of hearing aids available, including small, discreet models that connect with Bluetooth technology. In addition, hearing aid technology has been improving basic quality-of-life issues. For example, they block out background noise much better than older versions and can be connected to cell phones, TVs, and computers to allow for better hearing during the entertainment.
Older adults can also visit a nutritionist or consult with their primary care physician about changes to their diet to help prevent further hearing loss. There are links between iron deficiency anemia and hearing loss, for example, which can often be treated by adding more iron into your diet. Changes to your diet could also positively impact other health conditions, leading to an overall more healthy lifestyle.
Page medically reviewed by Kevin St. Clergy, Audiologist, on May 5, 2020.