Today, approximately 50 million people in the United States are suffering from hearing loss. Yet nearly 42 million (that’s nearly 80%!) of them go without treatment. Hearing loss has been listed by the Department of Health and Human Services as the third most common chronic health condition affecting seniors. Third!
Hearing loss is estimated to affect nearly 50% of adults in the 60 to 70 age bracket, nearly 67% of adults between 70 to 80 years, and the numbers only go up from there. As we live longer and science continues to increase life expectancy, we need to be best prepared to deal with this debilitating disorder and understand how it can impact our lives.
Hearing is one of the major senses; in fact, I believe it is the single most important sense we have. Hearing plays a major role in our fight or flight, prey vs. predator, and history as human beings, and hearing today has the important role of keeping us communicating and connected with the world around us – at home, at work, and in our community.
To further support the claim that hearing is the single most important sense we have, I offer the fact that the organ of hearing, the cochlea (aka the inner ear), is embedded deeply in the skull, in the hardest bone in our entire body, the temporal bone, giving our organ of hearing the highest level of protection.
It is important that you understand the dire consequences of untreated hearing loss and how improved hearing can decrease your risk of falling and help you maintain your independence as you actively age.
In addition to the importance of maintaining an active, engaged life with family and friends, early treatment of hearing loss is important for maintaining proper brain health. Simply put: Hearing Care is Preventative Medicine.
Your hearing drives your conception of everything and everybody around you; thus, hearing is always driving cognition. Hearing is driving memory. It’s driving your image of the environment around you. You don’t turn your hearing on or off; you can’t close your ears like you can close your eyes. There really isn’t a sense or portion of your brain that isn’t connected to your auditory system.
I believe this speaks to how important hearing is to live and to thrive. We are bombarded with sound at all times and the brain is constantly, in real-time, making decisions as to whether or not certain sounds are important, trying to figure out how to categorize the sound and if it is important to store away and remember it for reference at a later date.
A mild hearing loss can take away significant portions of the auditory world around you – and is likely the reason behind why patients with untreated hearing loss are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing a devastating fall.
While falling is a complex issue influenced by various factors, hearing loss can contribute to this risk in several ways:
The inner ear plays a crucial role in maintaining balance and spatial awareness. Hearing loss can disrupt the normal functioning of the inner ear, leading to balance problems. This can make older women more susceptible to falls, as they might struggle to maintain their equilibrium.
Our environment provides important auditory cues that help us navigate and avoid obstacles. Sounds like footsteps, approaching vehicles, or warnings from others alert us to potential dangers. With hearing loss, these cues may go unnoticed, increasing the likelihood of accidents and falls.
Older adults with hearing loss often need to expend more cognitive effort to understand speech and sounds. This increased cognitive load can lead to distractions and reduced attention to the physical environment, making them more vulnerable to tripping or stumbling.
In social situations, individuals with hearing loss may struggle to communicate effectively. This can lead to isolation and withdrawal from activities, reducing opportunities for physical exercise and social engagement, both of which play roles in maintaining physical strength and balance.
Hearing loss can lead to decreased awareness of one’s surroundings. For instance, not being able to hear approaching footsteps or warning signals can make it difficult to respond quickly to potential hazards.
If an older woman cannot hear warning signals or instructions promptly, her ability to react in a timely manner to avoid falling may be compromised.
Hearing loss is often associated with feelings of frustration, anxiety, and even depression. These emotional states can affect cognitive function and reaction times, indirectly increasing the risk of falls.
Misunderstandings due to hearing loss might result in miscommunication with healthcare providers or caregivers, leading to incorrect medication usage or missed medical advice that could impact overall health and well-being.
To mitigate these risks, it’s essential for older women with hearing loss to take proactive steps:
Regular hearing assessments can help identify and address hearing loss early.
The medical treatment of hearing loss can significantly improve hearing and reduce your risk of a traumatic fall.
Creating a safe home environment by removing hazards and ensuring proper lighting can reduce the risk of falls.
Engaging in regular physical activity can help maintain strength, balance, and coordination, reducing the risk of falling.
Learning effective communication strategies can help reduce frustration and improve social interactions.
Routine check-ups with healthcare providers can address any health issues that might contribute to falls.
Hearing loss can affect older women’s balance, spatial awareness, and overall awareness of their environment, increasing their risk of falls. Taking steps to address hearing loss and its associated challenges can help mitigate these risks and improve overall well-being.
Treating hearing loss can increase auditory and environmental awareness, decrease the risk of falls, and ultimately mean living a healthier and more independent lifestyle.
This is your hearing, your brain, and your overall health we are talking about here; never be afraid to insist on being heard and having your questions answered by your clinician.
How well do you hear? Has your hearing worsened with age? Do you treat it? In your experience, how has hearing loss affected your life?
Tags Medical Conditions