Untreated hearing loss: An overlooked danger
A lot of people recognize they have hearing loss long before they ever seek treatment for it. In fact, experts estimate that the average length of time that people wait between recognizing their hearing loss and getting hearing aids is between seven and 10 years!
There are many reasons people avoid getting hearing aids, including feeling stigmatized, believing hearing aids reveal their age or that aids make them feel weak. Some people may not fully realize that they have hearing loss or they may be in denial about how bad their hearing loss is, believing that other people are just mumbling and that is why it is difficult to hear.
However, it's very important to get your hearing tested as soon as you notice hearing difficulties. While your hearing loss is most likely age-related, it can also be indicative of a more serious problem like a tumor, or even a temporary issue like impacted earwax.
If you do have gradual hearing loss and your doctor or audiologist recommends a hearing aid, there are several excellent reasons not to wait. Untreated hearing loss lowers your quality of life and makes it difficult to connect with other people. But more than that, untreated hearing loss is actually unsafe. Here are the important reasons that you should not wait to get hearing aids if you need them:
For connectivity and quality of life
If you have hearing loss and are not using hearing aids when you could benefit from them, you're likely to miss portions of conversations. If you tire of asking "What did you say?" you might not speak up and instead miss out on a great experience to connect with someone else. Your relationships can suffer. If you live alone and have hearing loss, this can lead you to be isolated, and, according to Dr. Linda Remensnyder, an Illinois audiologist, "if you don't use it, you'll lose it."
If you have untreated hearing loss, not only are you missing out on the sounds of daily life, but you also could be missing important sounds that will keep you safe. Without hearing aids or other devices to address your hearing loss, you might not hear the fire alarm, a tornado siren or someone yelling for help. While driving, you might miss the sirens of emergency vehicles that need to pass, or the warning sound from a honking car that could deter an accident.
To reduce your chance of falling
People with hearing loss are three times more likely to experience a fall than others. Our ears play a role in balance, and according to Dr. Frank Lin, a professor of otolaryngology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, the extra demands of trying to hear can tire the brain and take its focus from other things:
"Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding," he said. "If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait."
To possibly lower your risk of dementia
Dr. Lin's research, and that of others, has shown that people with even mild untreated hearing loss have a two-fold risk of developing dementia. People with severe hearing loss are five times more likely to develop dementia. Researchers think this might be related to cognitive load, an as-of-yet undetermined pathological process or the social isolation that often develops when someone has untreated hearing loss and contact with others becomes uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing.