Do you frequently ask your spouse to repeat her or himself? Have you continued to turn the TV up louder and louder over the years? Do you resist going to loud restaurants because you can’t keep up with conversations?
If you’re like 20 percent of Americans and an astounding 66 percent of those over 70, you may have experienced hearing loss, and the inability to hear what’s going on around you may be having more profound effects on your life than simply undermining your conversations. According to an article in AARP, hearing loss could also increase your risk for cognitive problems and worst case scenario: dementia.
What’s the Connection?
One reason hearing deficits appear to be linked to diminished cognition is because your brain is at capacity when you are struggling to hear. If your ears are transmitting incomplete or hard-to-interpret information to your brain, your brain has to work harder to comprehend this info. That increased workload appropriates important brain resources, which normally might have been used to subsequently store the information in memory.
Another explanation involves the isolation that often comes with hearing loss. Because people who experience hearing loss tend to pull back from spending time with friends and family, the resulting isolation can breed loneliness, which, in turn, has been shown to increase the risk of dementia. In fact, a 2018 study proved that loneliness can increase your risk of dementia by 40 percent.
Removing the Cost Hurdle
Despite the huge impact that hearing loss can have on quality of life, many seniors resist treating it because of the stigma of wearing hearing aids and the challenges in using them (putting them on, adjusting the sound, replacing batteries, etc.). Then there’s the exorbitant cost. Because Medicare doesn’t cover them, a pair of hearing aids can run you upwards of $3,000 out of pocket. (According to the President’s Council for Science and Technology, the average cost per pair is $4,600.)
Thankfully, in 2017, Congress voted to create a new category of more reasonably priced, over-the-counter hearing devices. These devices are expected to be available in 2020. Tech companies may also enter the hearing device market, making these devices easier to acquire and less intimidating to use.
Don’t Put It Off
It’s easy to just chalk hearing loss up to your age, like a new wrinkle or that achy knee. But not making light of your struggle to hear and addressing the problem now could literally change the course of your old age.