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Has social distancing and wearing masks in public left you feeling lonely this past year? It’s important to remember that you are not alone in this. It can be difficult to connect to people when you are trying to stay 6 feet apart and you can’t see people’s facial expressions through masks.
This pandemic may be remembered by many as their most lonely time. This especially a danger for those of us as we reach our senior years in which loneliness can start to present serious health risks. One of the greatest risks in loneliness is hearing loss, which affects one in three over 65 and half of those 75 and older.
Health Risks of Loneliness
It’s important to understand that loneliness is not based on the amount of social interaction you have each day but the sense of not making social connections which come from shared experience or interests. Older adults are at a higher risk of loneliness due to common life events such as the death of friends or family, lack of mobility, chronic illness or hearing loss.
According to a meta-analysis co-authored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. A 2020 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) explained that over one-third of adults 45 and older experience loneliness while one fourth of adults 65 and older are considered socially isolated.
Social isolation can increase the risk of heart disease by 29% and risk of stroke by 32%. Even more alarming loneliness has been found to increase the risk of developing dementia early or at all by 50%.
Hearing Loss and a Heightened Risk of Dementia
When an individual struggles with hearing loss it is a challenge to hear day to day conversations. Relationships that are dear become strained due to constant miscommunication being replaced with resentment instead. It is all too easy for people to withdraw from those they love rather than struggle through failed conversation.
This creates a dangerous situation for seniors who become at a heightened risk for dementia. The stress which hearing loss produces has been found to release stress hormones and inflammation which increase the risk of dementia. Many people with untreated hearing loss choose to withdraw instead, starting a cycle of self-imposed isolation which could last years or decades. Due to self-isolation the brain receives less audio and social stimulation. The brain, like a muscle will actually shrink if it is not used regularly, raising the risk for dementia even higher.
Treating Hearing Loss to Fight Dementia
While most hearing loss is irreversible researchers have found that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can lower depression, self-imposed isolation and the risk of dementia. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University are studying the impact of treating hearing loss on the delay or prevention of dementia and loneliness with results to be released in 2022. It is anticipated that findings will reveal that treating hearing loss improves connections with loved ones and work as well as encouraging seniors to re-engage in hobbies and interests they once enjoyed. Hearing aids amplify the sounds your ears can no longer pick up making it easier for you to communicate with the people in your life.
Do You Need to Treat Your Hearing Loss?
Even with this understanding only 20% of those who could benefit from hearing aids have ever used them. This is in part, due to it often being difficult to know when hearing loss has set in, because it occurs gradually over years. Even so many wait seven to ten years from the time they know they have hearing loss to finally invest in hearing aids. It is important to understand that the longer you put off using hearing aids the higher the risk of loneliness and dementia.
A recent study from the Netherlands found that for every decibel drop in hearing perception experienced by people under the age of 70, there is a corresponding seven percent increase in the likeliness that they’ll experience severe loneliness. It’s important to not let it get to this point.
Your hearing health is too valuable to your quality of life. Make sure to have your hearing screened regularly and if a hearing loss is discovered do not delay in seeking treatment. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation.