Is my hearing loss connected to other health conditions?

Hearing loss affects one in six of the UK population – and eight million of these people are aged 60 or over. There are many hidden risks of hearing loss we may not even think about, and it’s associated with mental health conditions, such as depression. Factors that contribute to this include not being involved in conversation, withdrawing and becoming isolated. A study by clinical researcher Aishwarya Shukla and colleagues in 2019 found that older adults with hearing loss have higher odds of depressive symptoms compared to adults with normal hearing. It goes without saying, hearing aids are highly important in cases such as this.

The risk of dementia is also increased by up to five times for those with hearing loss, which escalates depending on the severity of their condition. In a 2011 study by Frank Lin from Johns Hopkins University, it was found that mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk, moderate loss tripled the risk, and people with a severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia.

People with mild loss may not even realise it. Therefore, it’s important to keep on top of your hearing health and get a test!

Most types of dementia are irreversible. So, how is it caused by hearing loss? Studies show that hearing loss causes ‘brain shrinkage’ in the part of the brain responsible for hearing, as it becomes inactive over time due to not being stimulated. This causes changes in the structure of the brain and its tissue, leading to dementia.

Hearing loss may also increase the risk of falls. Our ears pick up small cues from around us that help with our balance. If hearing loss is present, this makes it more difficult for our brain. Lin states that hearing loss makes your brain work harder just to process sound. This subconscious multitasking interferes with some of the mental processing needed to walk safely, leading to falls and possible injuries.

An increased risk in hospitalisation has also been found with those who have hearing loss. It’s associated with health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anaemia, chronic kidney disease and sleep apnea. A study by David Friedland and colleagues in 2009 showed that particularly low-frequency (sloping) and flat losses were strongly correlated with cardiovascular disease. There are many studies that link hearing loss and health conditions, including a study by Dane Genther, et al, in 2015, which found that hearing-impaired older adults experience a greater incidence and annual rate of hospitalisation than those with normal hearing.

It’s important to remember that our ears are for more than just hearing. Hearing loss can also have an impact on overall health and wellbeing. Our online hearing screening is the best first step towards peace of mind and, if required, treatment. Take it today. Whenever you need us, we’re on hand for advice and support.

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