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Don't isolate yourself: get your hearing checked

Hearing loss affects around 17 percent of adults in the U.S. Thirty percent of adults between 65 and 74 years of age and nearly 50 percent of adults ages 75 and older have some degree of hearing loss. However, only about one out of five people who should use hearing aids actually does wear them.

Untreated hearing loss can lead to social isolationSome people don't realize how bad their hearing is, while others cannot afford hearing aids and still others feel stigma and simply aren't ready to get hearing aids. In fact, on average, it takes adults with a recognized hearing loss between seven and 10 years to decide to get a hearing aid.

Aside from missing out on all of the sounds in the world, people with untreated hearing loss are also at a much greater risk for isolation.

How does isolation happen?

There are many reasons that isolation occurs among those with untreated hearing loss. First, older adults are more likely to live alone than other people. Other things can happen that lead to social isolation. Maybe a person gradually stops making phone calls or answering the phone when it rings - and in some cases becomes afraid of receiving a phone call - because her or she feels embarrassed to constantly ask "What did you say?" Phone conversations are much more difficult than face-to-face communication because there is the added difficulty of not being able to lip read.

Going to dinner with friends and family also often become too difficult because it's impossible to hear anything over background noise and in low lighting where lip reading is challenging, too.

Why is isolation dangerous?

Much research has shown that isolation can lead to loneliness, depression and cognitive decline. Social isolation might also be a factor in the development of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. A study by Johns Hopkins researchers, which was recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, studied people older than 70 for a six-year period. Those with hearing loss developed cognitive impairment more quickly than other adults.

Additionally, a huge body of research shows that social connections are one of the most important factors in maintaining health and longevity. Simply put, the more connected to others you are, the less your risk of death is.

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