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Untreated Hearing Loss Among the Elderly

By Tom Regev

Hearing Loss is one of the three most common chronic conditions among the elderly. Only hypertensive disease and arthritis are more common. Approximately 24% of those over the age of 65 and 39% of those over 75 suffer from hearing impairments.

Hearing impairments are not life threatening, but they can dramatically reduce the life quality of those that suffer from them and they may cause depression, social isolation and even heighten chances of heart disease and various forms of dementia.

Hearing loss can also be a practical danger, as people that suffer from it may lose the ability to react to the sound of an approaching vehicle or a fire alarm.

The Dangers of Untreated Hearing Loss

Surprisingly enough, in many cases and especially among the elderly, hearing loss remains untreated and many elderly people that suffer from hearing loss have never even been tested.

Why is such a common disability that denies people from some of the most basic joys of life, such as listening to music and having a normal conversation, remains, in many cases, untreated?

The answer has to do with awareness and psychological reasons. Because hearing loss is a gradual process, it often remains unnoticed until it reaches a high level of severity. Also, because hearing impairments are so closely associated with aging, some find it hard to acknowledge them.

Untreated hearing impairments may lead to depression and increase chances of contracting severe illnesses such as Alzheimer and Dementia. It may even lead to a state of paranoia with delusions of persecution caused by hearing loss symptoms.

Understanding the Pathology

Why is hearing loss now considered as a possible cause for paranoid notions, dementia, heart conditions and Alzheimer’s Disease?

The answer is simple, the brain of a person that suffers from hearing loss constantly struggles to decipher sounds from the outside world. This constant struggle means that the brain needs to dedicate many resources to the deciphering process, and dedicating such resources may come at the expense of vital and normal activities.
Over time, the strain may heighten vulnerability to many ailments, as well as contribute to worsening symptoms of existing ailments.  

Developing a Better Awareness

The conclusion is pretty clear: it is essential for elderly people to periodically test their hearing, even if they are unaware of suffering from hearing loss. Using proper hearing aids does not only serve to improve  the quality of life for elderly people, it also reduces, sometimes significantly, the chances of suffering from more severe ailments such as dementia, paranoia and Alzheimer’s disease.

This Article is presented as a service to the public by the Hearing Aids Group

Works Referenced

U.S Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Hearing Impairment and Elderly People – A Background Paper, OTA-BP-BA-30 (Washington, DC : U.S. Government Printing Office, May 1986).

Cacace, Anthony T. "Aging, Alzheimer's Disease, and Hearing Impairment: Highlighting Relevant Issues and Calling for Additional Research -- Cacace 16 (1): 2 -- American Journal of Audiology." Aging, Alzheimer's Disease, and Hearing Impairment: Highlighting Relevant Issues and Calling for Additional Research. American Journal of Audiology, 03 June 2007. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.

Severo, Richard. "PARANOIA IN ELDERLY ATTRIBUTED TO UNRECOGNIZED HEARING." The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 June 1981. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.

Davis, Jeanie Lerche. "Hearing Loss: Many Elderly Not Treated." WebMD. WebMD, 20 Oct. 2003. Web. 12 Dec. 2012.