If you’re having trouble hearing your television, you’re more likely to have a hard time standing up from the couch. That’s according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which links hearing loss to a decrease in mobility.
This new study found that those with untreated hearing loss tended to have a harder time getting around, impacting what physicians refer to as “mobility.” Of course, the real question is: how does that happen? How does an inability to hear impact how sore your knees are when you get out of bed in the morning?
Hearing loss and movement
It’s tempting to compartmentalize your body. Your ears do one thing, and your feet do another. This is reinforced by the very structure of the healthcare system. When your ears stop working, you see a hearing specialist. When your feet hurt, you’re referred to a podiatrist.
But the reality is that the human body is far more interconnected than we typically think. That’s why researchers began to study the ways that something as common as hearing loss might impact mobility.
Researchers looked at a group of over 2000 individuals, tracking their hearing levels and overall mobility. They discovered that there was indeed a correlation between untreated hearing loss and a more severe lack of movement. There could be several non-mutually exclusive reasons for this:
- Hearing loss and diminished mobility may have some of the same underlying causes. For example, inflammation can have widespread symptoms throughout the body.
- Hearing loss and lack of movement are present simultaneously (what physicians call “comorbid”) and related. Hearing loss, for example, can lead to social isolation. And that means you’re spending more time at home and you’re moving less. Maybe you even head to the gym less often. The more time spent in a sedentary way, the more mobility you’re likely to lose.
- Lack of mobility and hearing loss are comorbid but for different reasons. It’s possible that age-related hearing loss and lack of movement are simply more common in older adults (though researchers tend to control for this kind of variable).
Researchers are still trying to determine the precise cause and effect behind this relationship.
We know hearing loss can have a big impact
In some ways, the results of this new study aren’t all that surprising. That’s because we know that untreated hearing loss can have a huge impact on your overall health in a myriad of ways. For example, untreated hearing loss can cause:
- Long-term fatigue: If you have hearing loss and don’t know it, you might find yourself feeling tired and distracted for no discernible reason. That’s because your brain is working overtime trying to strain and interpret everything you’re hearing.
- Depression and anxiety: Long-term untreated hearing loss can increase your risk of developing both depression and anxiety.
- Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Research has drawn a clear correlation between untreated hearing loss and increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. The precise cause of the link between the two conditions is not entirely clear, however.
In addition, hearing loss can have a significant impact on your social life. As mentioned earlier, those with untreated hearing loss tend to suffer from social isolation. They go out less often, engage in fewer conversations, and avoid friends. This social isolation can exacerbate other comorbid conditions caused by untreated hearing loss.
Finding the right treatment can help
For most people, treatment for hearing loss will mean taking the time to visit your local hearing specialist and get fitted for a couple of hearing aids (depending on your level of hearing loss).
The hearing aids can slow the progression of many hearing loss comorbidities. For example, studies have shown that mental acuity and social engagement tend to increase after getting hearing aids. There are no studies yet on whether this has an effect on mobility, though if you are socializing more, you are likely also moving more.
In many ways, then, the best way to preserve your hearing and your mobility is to take steps to protect your hearing ability. This could include avoiding loud environments and wearing earplugs when you can’t. But hearing loss prevention also includes regular screenings and tests to ensure your hearing doesn’t wane. The authors of this study hope that their research will encourage more physicians to incorporate prevention and hearing loss treatment into routine medical screenings.
Untreated hearing loss can have a significant impact on your overall health. The trick, then, is to make sure you treat your hearing loss.