Though we may not think of it as such, hearing loss is a medical issue. In fact, it is the third most common medical issue in the United States, affecting nearly 20% of the population. While hearing loss appears in greater numbers among older Americans (age 65 and older), it also affects younger populations.
Hearing loss, though very common, is often undiagnosed and undertreated. According to a 2014 report from Geriatric Medicine, “Although hearing loss can occur at any age, conservative estimates of its pervasive nature indicate that between 25% and 40% of individuals over the age of 65 will experience some hearing loss. The prevalence increases to 40% to 66% in patients over the age of 75 and more than 80% of individuals over the age of 85 will experience significant hearing loss. However, primary care physicians routinely screen only about 12.9% of the total US population for hearing loss.”
In part, this may be due to the fact that hearing loss is an invisible condition, and its side-effects – if left untreated – are easily absorbed in behavior we may commonly attribute simply to “old age.” However, the reality is, hearing loss can be easily treated and in doing so, brings significant benefits to our lives.
Here are three reasons to talk to your physician about hearing loss at your next annual physical.
Identifying Hearing Loss Could Help Prevent Dementia
The link between dementia and hearing loss has been widely studied and explored in the past decade – both nationally and internationally. Johns Hopkins University has lead the way, revealing that untreated hearing loss adds a significant burden to the brain’s cognitive load, which increases the risk for dementia.
A 2011 study tracked 639 subjects over a span of 12 to 18 years, monitoring the relationship between their hearing ability and cognitive abilities. Results showed that subjects with poorer hearing abilities that were left untreated had an increased risk of developing dementia. In another study from 2011, Japanese researchers found that the early prescription of hearing aids for subjects with early signs of hearing loss significantly helped with preserving their cognitive abilities.
The use of hearing aids assists our brain in the auditory process, which has been found to improve our cognitive abilities, thus helping to stave off the onset of dementia.
Hearing Loss Has Links to Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes
While hearing loss is the third most common medical condition in the United States, heart disease comes in at number one. And, believe it or not, there is a link between these two conditions.
Blood flow is crucial in the auditory process, as parts of your ear receive sound waves, translate them into neural signals, and process them in the auditory cortex of your brain. The inner ear environment is a sophisticated system of hair cells, fed by adequate blood flow. Limited blood flow in this process may potentially damage your inner ear hair cells and thus cause adverse effects on your hearing. For this reason, it is important to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. If you experience high blood pressure or are at risk for other cardiovascular diseases, talk to your physician about improving these aspects of your health – which in turn will benefit how you hear.
Similarly, diabetes may also affect your hearing abilities. The irregularity in insulin production affects blood glucose levels, which in turn increases the risk for strokes and heart attacks, and causes problems in the cardiovascular system. As a result, this could affect your hearing abilities. Recent studies have begun to link diabetes and hearing loss through this connection.
If you have noticed changes in your hearing abilities, this could indicate related medical issues – which is why it is important to bring up hearing at your next physical. This will notify your doctor to check possible comorbidities in your overall health.
Treating Hearing Loss Keeps You Safe
Treating Hearing Loss Keeps You Safe
Your sense of hearing helps you connected to the world around you and plays a big role in keeping you safe. In 2012, Johns Hopkins University conducted a study that revealed a link between untreated hearing loss and falls: for every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the risk of falling increases by 1.4-fold. It comes as no surprise, then, that untreated hearing loss is also linked with an increased rate of hospitalization.
In part, this is because of our auditory system’s link to our vestibular (balance) system. Liquids in the ear maintain a sense of balance and relationship to gravity, registering our spatial awareness in the brain. When hearing loss occurs, our balance and spatial reasoning may be adversely affected.
In addition to talking to your primary care physician about hearing loss, it is important to schedule an annual hearing test. Contact us at Preferred Hearing Centers today to schedule an appointment.