Hearing loss isn’t a harmless condition to be ignored. In fact, hearing loss often coexists with other serious health problems. And a growing body of research indicates that there may be a link. Studies show that people with heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression may all have an increased risk of hearing loss.
When left untreated, hearing loss alone can lead to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions. Impaired memory and the impaired ability to learn new tasks, reduced alertness, increased risk to personal safety, irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension and stress are among its more common side effects. But when untreated hearing loss coexists with a chronic illness, the likelihood is all the greater that the individual will experience exacerbated levels of stress and diminished quality of life.
Here’s good news: Research also indicates that professionally fitted hearing aids can help improve quality of life for people with chronic diseases when hearing loss does coexist.
“In the vast majority of cases, hearing loss can be addressed with hearing aids to help people hear better and improve their quality of life,” says Dr. Sergei Kochkin, executive director of the Better Hearing Institute (BHI). “I strongly urge anyone with heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, and/or depression to talk with their doctor and make hearing screenings a routine part of their medical care.”
BHI encourages people to take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing test at www.hearingcheck.org (link to: http://www.betterhearing.org/hearing_loss/online_hearing_test/) to determine if they need a comprehensive hearing check by a hearing professional. For more information on hearing loss, visit www.betterhearing.org.
The link between hearing loss and certain chronic diseases
Numerous studies have long linked untreated hearing loss to diminished psychological and overall health. But an emerging body of research is now revealing a link between hearing loss and other chronic health conditions.
For example, hearing loss is about twice as common in adults with diabetes compared to those who do not have the disease, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Another study, published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases found that older adults with moderate chronic kidney disease (CKD) have a higher prevalence of hearing loss than those of the same age without CKD.
Other studies have shown that a significantly higher percentage of people with Alzheimer’s disease may have hearing loss than their normally aging peers. In fact, older adults with hearing loss appear more likely to develop dementia, and their risk increases as hearing loss becomes more severe, according to a study published in the Archives of Neurology,. The researchers also found that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease specifically increased with hearing loss.
The link between unaddressed hearing loss and depression also is compelling. An Italian study found that working adults aged 35 to 55 who were affected by mild to moderate hearing loss in both ears reported higher levels of disability and psychological distress — and lower levels of social functioning — than a well-matched normal control population.
Perhaps the link between cardiovascular disease and hearing loss is the most widely recognized. In a study published in the June 2010 issue of the American Journal of Audiology, the authors reviewed research that had been conducted over the past 60 plus years. They found that the negative influence of impaired cardiovascular health on both the peripheral and central auditory system, and the potential positive influence of improved cardiovascular health on these same systems, was found through a sizable body of research.
“With so much evidence emerging on the potential link between hearing loss and various chronic illnesses, it becomes all the more pressing for people to identify and address hearing loss early on,” Kochkin says. “Talk to your doctor. Get your hearing checked. And be assured that in most cases, today’s state-of-the-art hearing aids, programmed to the specific hearing requirements of the individual, can help people hear better and thereby regain quality of life.”