Hearing loss is the fastest growing and third most prevalent chronic health condition in Canada. Untreated hearing loss is associated with social isolation, depression, cognitive decline, dementia, and an increased risk of falling.
If you think that you, a loved one, or a friend may be suffering from hearing loss, book a comprehensive hearing assessment with one of our certified audiologists today.
Hearing Loss Causes
Age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs with age. It is the most common type of hearing loss, affecting 1 in 3 people by the age of 65, and 1 in 2 people by the age of 75. It typically affects both ears equally, and because it occurs so gradually, many people are not fully aware of the extent of their hearing loss until they are fit with hearing aids and can notice how much their hearing has improved. For more information on guidelines for regular hearing testing click here.
GENETIC AND HEREDITARY
Our genetic makeup can make us more susceptible to hearing loss. For example, a genetic mutation in Utero can affect the development of the auditory system. Hereditary hearing loss may be present at birth (congenital) or may appear later in life (acquired). The traits our parents pass on to us, called hereditary factors, can increase our likelihood of hearing loss.
Occupational and recreational exposure to loud noises can lead to physical damage to the ear and hearing loss over time. Exposure to very loud sounds, such as explosions and firearms, can cause immediate damage and hearing loss.
Viral infections can affect the nerves in the ear causing a permanent hearing loss. The most common infections that may lead to hearing loss are chicken pox, influenza, measles, meningitis, mumps and shingles.
INJURY AND TRAUMA
A traumatic brain injury or damage to the ear from motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, falls, and blows to the head can lead to hearing loss. Trauma during birth can also cause hearing loss.
People with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from high-frequency hearing loss than those who do not have diabetes. The connection between diabetes and hearing loss has been known for quite some time now; however, the exact cause remains unknown. One theory suggests that high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes may lead to damage to the blood vessels and nerves of the inner ear, similarly to how diabetes can be damaging to many other parts of the human body.
While it is important for everyone to have their hearing tested, it is especially important for patients with diabetes so that if a hearing loss does exist, it can be detected and treated sooner rather than later.
Research has discovered a link between cardiovascular disease (heart disease) and hearing loss. The inner ear contains many blood vessels and is therefore, especially sensitive to blood flow and any issues in the cardiovascular system. Cardiovascular disease includes any disease that affects the structure and functions of the heart. The most common examples include heart attack, stroke, arrythmia, and heart valve problems. A hearing evaluation may identify cardiovascular disease before you notice any symptoms of heart disease.
COGNITIVE DECLINE & DEMENTIA
It has now been established that untreated hearing loss is associated with a decrease in cognitive functioning. A longitudinal study performed by Amieva et al. in 2015 found that older adults with untreated hearing loss showed higher rates of cognitive decline compared to older adults of the same age, gender and education level who were fit with hearing aids.
A direct causal relationship between untreated hearing loss and dementia has also been observed. For many years, researchers have theorized that social isolation resulting from untreated hearing loss contributes to the development of dementia but were unable to determine the exact cause.
A study by the Lancet Commissions completed in July of 2017 found that 35% of an individual’s risk for developing dementia later in life is potentially modifiable. They identified 9 modifiable risk factors that make up that 35% and hearing loss was the most significant, at 9%. They confirmed that untreated hearing loss is associated with an increased risk for dementia due to the effects of untreated hearing loss on the brain. They found that when hearing loss is left untreated, this leads to decreased stimulation of the auditory nerve which connects the inner ear to the brain, resulting in decreased stimulation of the auditory cortex of the brain and consequently an increased risk of dementia. Fortunately, they determined that when hearing loss is treated with amplification, the individual’s risk for dementia is comparable to those with normal hearing.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, research has shown that untreated hearing loss is linked to depression. A study conducted by the National Counsel on Aging (NCOA) in 1999 determined that individuals suffering from untreated hearing loss are more susceptible to negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness and insecurity.
Individuals with untreated hearing loss often report that it is so difficult to follow and therefore participate in conversations that they simply give up and leave the social setting or stop socializing altogether. These communication challenges resulting from untreated hearing loss lead to social isolation, decreased confidence and self-esteem and ultimately a reduced quality of life.
The good news is that those who do seek help for their hearing loss notice a marked improvement in communication and therefore a reduction of those negative emotions leading to a decreased likelihood of depression.
If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!
Why? – When the hearing nerve and hearing part of the brain are deprived of sound, they gradually atrophy (weaken). When this weakening occurs, it makes managing hearing loss through means like hearing aids and other assistive listening devices more difficult. The medical term for this phenomenon is auditory deprivation.
Causes of auditory deprivation in adults:
- Waiting too long to treat your hearing loss with hearing aids.
- Choosing not to treat your hearing loss.
- Single-ear hearing aid use. This causes the aided-ear to do all the work which weakens the unaided ear over time. Also known as the Unaided Ear Effect.
- Improper fitting or fine tuning of current hearing aids. Hearing aid users should be seen by their certified audiologists on a regular basis in order to maintain optimal hearing and monitor any changes.
WHEN SHOULD I HAVE A HEARING TEST?
Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent and fastest growing chronic health conditions facing Canadians today. It is important to have your hearing assessed regularly by a certified audiologist. You do not need a doctor's referral to have your hearing tested.
Current guidelines for hearing assessments recommend the following:
Adults aged 18-54 should have their hearing checked every 5-10 years.
Adults aged 55 and up should have their hearing checked every 2 years.