Hearing Loss: The Invisible Handicap
Most of us take our hearing for granted. As one of our five senses, we rely on it in everything we do during our waking hours, from hearing the alarm go off to wake us in the morning to the sweet voices of our loved ones at the end of the day.
If the ability to hear diminishes, it’s usually a gradual process. It often starts with having trouble hearing softer voices, lower volumes on our car radios or listening devices, hearing a car horn in traffic, picking up what people in a group are saying to you and one another, or even being totally unaware someone is talking to you from a few feet away. After a period of time, you may find yourself struggling to perform at work, withdrawing socially, and feeling alienated and alone. You’ve placed yourself in psychological solitary confinement.
Hearing loss is considered the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing older adults. As many as one-third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 experience a loss of hearing. That figure jumps to 50 percent at the age of 75 and over. The tragedy is that for most, treatment is as simple as using a hearing aid and yet only about 20 percent seek help. Those who do get tested wait more than 10 years – even after their diagnosis – to get fitted with one. By that time, their condition is so advanced they are for most practical purposes deaf.
How to Recognize Impaired Hearing
Delayed treatment for hearing loss has far-reaching effects. Some of the symptoms of hearing loss are aggravated by simply not recognizing a problem exists. Here are some of them:
- Withdrawal from social interaction and participation in activities that once brought joy
- Social rejection
- Losing significant relationships with family and friends
- Having problems communicating
- Drop in job performance or even job loss
- Worry and stress
- Reduced alertness
- Fear of being labeled mentally incompetent
Some health-related effects of hearing loss are:
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Memory loss (and ability to learn new tasks)
- Chronic illness
- Diminished self-worth
Hearing: A Social Handicap That Can Bring On Depression and Dementia
The loss of hearing quality and all the mental and physical effects it has on a person can form a generalized feeling that life just isn’t much fun. Depression could be the result of the accumulation of a host of symptoms. Over time, the continuation of these feelings and social isolation can cause depression. Lack of social interaction may even cause dementia.
Hearing loss is linked to walking problems, falling and dementia, according to research from Johns Hopkins University, due to faster atrophy of the brain, not being able to pick up subtle cues when walking, and the need to multi-task while trying to process what’s being said and what’s going on around them.
In so many ways hearing loss can rob you of self-respect and an active, vibrant life; for instance, responding inappropriately in conversations because you misunderstood what is being discussed … or feeling embarrassed over what others are thinking and how stupid you feel.
So Why Neglect Getting Help for Hearing?
Unfortunately, some people don’t make the connection between their hearing problem and the psychological and physical ailments and illnesses that crop up. They could be misdiagnosed for mental illness when improvements to their quality of life are easily within their grasp.
Denial also plays a part in delayed treatment. Even members of the family often attribute hearing loss to normal aging and are unaware of the extent to which it’s affecting their loved one’s health and mental state. Their well-meaning assurances that it’s normal could be bolstering the denial. You may think, “Ok well, it’s just age and I have to accept it.”
Then there’s shame. Being left out of conversations and activities because you’re having trouble understand what’s being said can be embarrassing. To avoid the shame, some people with hearing loss sometimes choose isolation instead of confronting the actual problem head on.
People with hearing impairments also turn away from getting fitted with a hearing aid out of vanity. Are you concerned that the sight of a device in their ear will make others think less of you, or that it diminishes your physical appearance?
Hearing Aids Improve Many Quality-Of-Life Issues
Getting treated and fitted with a hearing aid can make profound improvements in your quality of life – even losses ranging from mild to severe. Because communication immediately improves, your relationships improve. The intimacy and warmth in relationships return when there’s ease in communicating. You return to a state of emotional stability, get reassurance you’re functioning well mentally, are able to perform your job well, regain a sense of control over your life and the physical health that follows.
Symptoms to look for in yourself and others:
- Not hearing alarms or telephones
- Unable to understand someone’s voice over the phone
- Can hear well when several people are talking
- Can’t hear when not face-to-face with someone speaking
- Can’t hear well in a car, with wind, or in traffic
- Can’t understand voices on TV
- Can’t hear whispering
- Trouble hearing people in a large room
- Unclear or accented speech
- Unaware someone is talking to you
Don’t sentence yourself to isolation. The staff at Acuity Hearing Centers help minimize the impact of transitioning into a hearing device. We use the latest advanced equipment and have devices that are elegantly styled so that no one has to know you’re wearing one.