The Cost of Hearing Loss

By Cody Pendergrass, M.A.

There is a saying that growing old is not for the faint of heart. Growing older truly requires inner strength and resilience for many reasons, as you may well know.

Aging is accompanied by a number of changes – physically, emotionally, and mentally – with some occurring earlier than others. For instance, age-related muscle loss has been shown to begin as early as one’s 20s. Educating yourself on changes that occur with aging can prevent acceleration of decline through proper treatment and preventive measures. One such change to monitor is hearing loss.

Gradual hearing loss as you age is common, with as many as one in four showing signs of hearing loss by age 55 and one in two showing signs of hearing loss over age 65. Research indicates a greater number of men experience hearing loss than women. Damage to the inner ear, repeated exposure to loud sounds, and ear wax build-up are other possible factors contributing to loss of hearing. If you suffer from hearing loss you may notice muffled sounds, difficulty following conversations, or increased distraction from background noise. Sometimes these challenges result in isolation to avoid embarrassing situations, but there may be more reasons to get your hearing checked.

As hearing declines, individuals may find themselves giving up activities they once enjoyed. In conjunction with voluntary or forced social isolation, these individuals are at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety. A study of adults age 65 and older with moderate to profound hearing loss found that hearing aids or cochlear implants were shown to not only improve hearing but also to improve quality of life and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.

Moreover, there can be increased safety implications for those with decreased hearing, including higher risk of accidents. This is due to lower situational awareness based on auditory cues in the environment, such as hearing oncoming vehicles, alarms, or verbal warnings. While most hearing loss is irreversible, taking advantage of technology to improve hearing has numerous benefits.

Multiple studies have identified hearing loss as a risk factor for developing dementia. Those with moderate to severe hearing loss – beyond the normal decline that occurs with aging – are more frequently diagnosed with dementia than peers without advanced hearing loss. Unfortunately, further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between hearing loss and dementia; however, those with untreated or unidentified hearing loss tend to show greater difficulty with attention and memory. There is some speculation that these difficulties are caused by inability to hear information, rather than actual forgetting or inattention.

In other words, if people heard adequately, there might be no sign of memory impairment. Studies that have tracked those with hearing loss over time, however, have found that sound-amplification devices appeared to delay onset of dementia. Furthermore, international studies have indicated that hearing devices are vastly underutilized, and many with hearing complaints have never undergone formal hearing tests. If you recognize signs of hearing loss in yourself or others, consider getting tested to see if your hearing is consistent with age-related changes or if you may benefit from any hearing devices.

You can find more information online at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website, www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing-loss-older-adults, or All American Hearing at www.allamericanhearing.com. Numerous hearing specialists are also available in Colorado Springs including: Peak View Audiology & Hearing Center, 719-633-4100, or Pikes Peak Hearing Aid Services, 719-325-7519.

Cody Pendergrass, M.A., is a University of Denver clinical psychology doctoral student and trainee at the UCCS Aging Center. For more information, contact Cody at cpenderg@uccs.edu or call the Aging Center at 719-255-8002.

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