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The hidden cost of untreated hearing loss

Contributed by | Monday, May 18th, 2015

When it comes to hearing loss, it turns out there is a lot more at stake than just a few missed conversations.

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, more than 48 million Americans report having some hearing loss, yet relatively few seek the help they need. A person with hearing loss might be in denial there is a problem, or may even be embarrassed to admit the problem. Or maybe he just thinks his hearing isn’t bad enough to warrant a hearing aid. On average a person with hearing loss waits 10 years to seek treatment, if he seeks it at all. Whatever the reason, the avoidance of seeking help and treatment comes at a tremendous cost. 

untreated hearing loss costs
Untreated hearing loss leads to more
than just missed conversation. An 
individual's mental and emotional
well being are closely tied to how 
well they can hear. 

The mental, physical and emotional toll that hearing loss takes affects every facet of life, from family relationships to careers and a social life. It reaches far beyond just hearing, and is so connected to all aspects of life that it is considered to be a major national health concern.

Perhaps of greatest concern are the psychological effects of hearing loss. Being able to effectively communicate is vital to mental health; thus anger, frustration and depression are common among those with untreated hearing loss. As a matter of fact, 11.4 percent of those with untreated hearing loss report feelings of depression, according to a study by the NICDC. Feeling short-tempered or mistrustful of others is also common, as is lowered self-esteem and reduced confidence.

There is a stigma associated with hearing loss contributing to the feelings of frustration and inadequacy; inappropriate responses to questions or requests to have things repeated can lead to the perception that those with hearing loss are slow or even senile, when nothing could be further from the truth. Over time, a person with hearing loss can begin to internalize these perceptions and believe them. Self-esteem then plummets and a difficult cycle begins.

Of course, mental and emotional health is strongly linked to one’s social life. And for those experiencing hearing loss, the cost to one’s social life can be tremendous. Once again, communication is everything. Conversation becomes difficult or impossible when one can’t hear the other person. Especially in a noisy social setting such as a restaurant or party, a person with hearing loss has trouble interacting with others. Being unaware that a person has hearing loss might lead some to erroneously think he is ignoring them, or is being rude. Also, someone experiencing hearing loss is more likely to avoid activities that he once found enjoyable, leading to social isolation. The results of a study by the EAR Foundation found that more than 40 percent of those with hearing loss report difficulty having conversations, and more than 50 percent reported having difficulty with cell phones.

And what about on the job? In the workplace, untreated hearing loss can be detrimental to career, earnings, and productivity. Lost opportunities and lost wages are par for the course; according to a 2010 survey by the Better Hearing Institute, those with severe hearing loss had more than double the unemployment rate of their hearing peers. Hearing on the job is not only critical in terms of communication, but often to job safety as well. With untreated hearing loss productivity becomes lower, and performance is negatively affected. This in turn negatively impacts earning potential. The study by the EAR Foundation revealed that 25 percent of those with hearing loss said their earning potential had been negatively impacted. 25 percent also reported that their hearing loss had affected their performance in the workplace. And, most shockingly, a BHI survey of 40,000 households showed a $14,000 income differential between those with mild verses severe hearing loss.

And it’s not just careers that feel the impact of hearing loss; when an individual has hearing loss, it affects everyone around him. That’s right; when it comes to hearing loss, the whole family is affected.  For the people living with an individual with hearing loss, challenges are numerous. Think about your daily life; do you ever shout to a family member who is upstairs, or talk to someone in another room? While this is typical behavior of most families, it becomes problematic and frustrating when a family member has hearing loss. Everything from loud televisions, vacuum cleaners, noisy appliances, or just several people talking at once can be challenging even for those with normal hearing; add hearing loss into the equation and there are bound to be frustrations on both sides.

For example, just watching TV can cause conflict; an individual with hearing loss might have the television too loud to suit another family member, especially if they have different sleep schedules. And a couple that used to enjoy going to parties together might find themselves at odds when the individual with hearing loss doesn’t want to go any more due to difficulty participating in conversations; staying home or going to the party alone are often unappealing options for the person’s spouse. And these are but a few of the scenarios that can leave families frustrated and sad.

Fortunately it doesn’t have to be this way. Contact a hearing healthcare professional today to make an appointment for a hearing evaluation. This first step can help you re-engage in life, and improve not only your mental health, but your professional life, social life and family relationships as well.

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