The Risks of Dismissing Listening to Aids

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Article Summary:

  • Research links older people’s use of hearing aids with lower risks of dementia, depression, anxiety, and dangerous falls.
  • Hearing loss can lead to social isolation, which increases the likelihood of developing cognitive difficulties and mood disorders.
  • There are hearing aids available that are almost invisible, and some devices are very reasonably priced.

How Hearing Aids Reduce Dementia and Anxiety

As we grow older, we begin to experience subtle changes in our bodies. It’s not like one day we don’t need glasses to read the newspaper or a menu and the next we do. For most signs of aging, the changes are gradual. That’s why when it comes to a gradual decline in our hearing, it may be easier to deny to ourselves that it has taken place. But it is important to face reality in this case and do something about it because new research shows that using hearing aids can help us prevent other serious conditions that might arise in our senior years.

The study, which took place at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, found that older people have a lower risk of developing dementia, depression, anxiety, and injuries from falls when they begin wearing a hearing aid. These results are based on an investigation that analyzed data from a Medicare HMO for 114,862 people 66 and older from 2008 through 2016. This type of insurance differs from traditional Medicare plans in that it partially covers the cost of hearing aids.

Each subject’s medical records were reviewed for one year before their hearing loss diagnosis and for three years afterward to ensure a focus on only new cases of dementia, depression, anxiety, and fall injuries and to exclude any pre-existing cases. In that three-year span after receiving their hearing loss diagnosis, the participants who had gotten hearing aids were shown to have an 18 percent lower risk of dementia, a 13 percent lower risk of injuries due to falls, and an 11 percent lower risk of depression or anxiety.

Loss of Hearing Takes a Significant Toll

Why would hearing loss potentially contribute to seemingly unrelated problems such as dementia, depression, and falls? In the case of dementia, many individuals who can’t hear properly often start becoming more withdrawn and isolated. As the brain receives less stimulation from social connectivity, nerve impulses slow down and memory declines.

As for depression and anxiety, once again it seems that the issue largely stems from the withdrawal from social settings that many older people with hearing loss impose on themselves. The more time they spend alone, the greater their depression and/or anxiety grows. A 2014 study at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland found a link between hearing loss and higher rates of moderate to severe depression. And the risk of falls, too, increases with hearing loss because of the inner ear’s essential role in maintaining balance. But the problem is worsened by the fact that only 12 percent or so of older people actually get hearing aids when they are diagnosed with hearing loss.

Preventing and Managing Hearing Loss

By the age of 65, approximately 33 percent of Americans experience some level of hearing loss. If your hearing is still fully intact—and you know this through an audiological evaluation—that’s great, but you need to do what you can to safeguard it. One of the major causes of hearing loss is exposure to loud noises and it can occur not only from expected sources like the high decibel levels at a concert, but also everyday situations like work (for example, in construction), listening to music too loudly through headphones, or even regularly walking around a city with heavy traffic. Buy yourself earplugs to prevent loud sounds all around you from doing damage to delicate nerve cells within the ears.

If you have already begun to experience hearing loss, it is not enough to get a diagnosis. Consider getting fitted for a hearing aid. There are a wide range of models available and many are very discreet. If your insurance does not cover the cost and it is out of your price range, look into an over-the-counter sound amplification device. These, although not as discreet, can be very effective and help prevent the dementia, mood disorders, and falls all associated with hearing loss.


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