by Kate Tuomala, MA, CCC-A, F-AAA
Hearing loss occurs gradually in most individuals, and few realize the damage it can inflict on overall quality of life. Research over the past 15 years has only begun to emphasize the importance of seeking treatment when hearing loss becomes a factor in daily life. However, only one in five people actually takes advantage of all that hearing aids can offer after learning they aren’t hearing their best. The other four in five Americans who don’t use hearing aids sometimes delay treatment for so long that communication—even in the most optimal situations—becomes problematic.
Some effects of hearing loss on quality of life are more obvious than others. When hearing loss occurs, understanding conversation becomes more difficult. Individuals must spend more time focusing on what a person is saying, must watch the speaker’s face to concentrate on lip-reading the words they can’t always hear, and usually must sit closer to the speaker in order to pick up part of the conversation. Communicating with friends and loved ones can become an exhausting exercise and can be very frustrating.
In a survey by the National Council on Aging, results from 4,000 adults with hearing loss and their significant others showed significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and other psychosocial disorders. The data showed that hearing aid use positively affects quality of life for both the hearing aid wearer and his or her significant other. These findings were consistent with another large, randomized study in which participants fitted for hearing aids who experienced depression and decreased social interaction saw their conditions improve.
Unfortunately, hearing loss is often ignored during diagnosis and treatment of cognitive memory disorders, particularly with older adults. Understanding this link, and the wealth of research linking hearing loss with other disorders, can help with more appropriate diagnoses and better outcomes from treatment in the future.
Many with hearing loss also list their overall wellness as unsatisfactory, including:
- People with hearing loss are less satisfied with “life as a whole” than those without hearing loss.
- Fewer working-age individuals (18 to 64 years old) with hearing loss are employed than those without hearing loss.
- Loss of independence is another significant reason for dissatisfaction with some aspect of life.
- Depression symptoms in individuals 70 or older are more prevalent.
- Among the population with hearing loss, only 39 percent consider themselves to be in excellent or very good physical health, while 68 percent of well-hearing individuals say the same.
- Poor health appears to be a larger factor in the decision to retire among those with hearing loss than those without.
Tuomala, M.A., CCC-A, F-AAA, audiologist and owner of Audiology of the Sandhills, can be reached at 910-672-6094 or by visiting www.sandhillshearing.com