In only the last dozen years, many important studies have surfaced linking hearing loss to disabling conditions, such as cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, clinical depression, diabetes, falls among the elderly, heart disease, and many more. These linkages are often referred to as comorbidities, which can be defined as the simultaneous presence of two or more chronic conditions or diseases in a patient.
Comorbities Associated with Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is in fact a comorbity, which can be connected to several other comorbities. The six major comorbid conditions associated with hearing loss are social isolation and loneliness, depression, balance problems and falls, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. Additionally, beyond the conditions noted above, there are other comorbidities linked to hearing loss, including but not limited to fibromyalgia, anemia, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease, and sleep apnea.
Social isolation and loneliness
Social isolation as we age increases the risk of numerous mental and physical health challenges. Social isolation is also a growing epidemic, which, according to the former Surgeon General of the United States, is associated with a “reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” One big reason people become socially isolated is because of hearing loss. Often, as hearing becomes challenging, people avoid social, business or transactional situations where hearing interactions is key and instead choose to withdraw and isolate themselves.
Losing the ability to enjoy the sounds you used to take for granted, such as music, nature, and your loved ones’ voices, can leave you experiencing grief, loneliness, deprivation – all variations of sadness. As for anxiety and stress, they can become disorders in their own right. Straining to hear all day at work, at home, or in social situations is also stressful. Living in a constant state of sadness, anxiety, and/or stress is unhealthy for many reasons, including raising your risk of depression.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among the elderly leading to significant health, social, economic, and emotional consequences. Falls often lead to fatal outcomes within the first 12 months of a fall with injury in the senior population. Hearing loss is one of several factors causing falls. Even a mild degree of hearing loss triples the risk of an accidental fall.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, killing nearly 610,000 people every year in the United States. Those with cardiovascular disease can have a variety of medical issues affecting the structure and vessels of the heart. The most common types include those, which narrow or block vessels leading to chest pain, or a heart attack or stroke. Studies have shown that good circulation plays a role in maintaining good hearing health. Conversely, inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss.
It’s known that high blood sugar can damage blood vessels throughout the body, including your ears. If you’ve had diabetes for a long time and it isn’t well controlled, there could be damage to the vast network of small blood vessels in your ears.
Another complication of diabetes is nerve damage. It’s possible that damage to the auditory nerves could lead to hearing loss
Cognitive impairment and dementia
Individuals with moderate to severe hearing loss are up to 5 times as likely to develop cognitive impairment and ultimately dementia. According to several major studies, older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, compared to those with normal hearing. The risk escalates as a person’s hearing loss worsens. Those with mild hearing impairment are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those with normal hearing. The risk increases three-fold for those with moderate hearing loss, and five-fold for those with severe impairment.
Contrary to what many in the healthcare community assume, age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is not a benign consequence of aging. Presbycusis is associated with a number of psychosocial and physiological conditions.
If you suspect you are suffering from a hearing loss it can become harmful to your overall health to ignore your condition. Contact us at Hearing Consultants to set up a hearing test. Treating hearing loss can help you stay healthy for years to come.