Many people around the world are suffering from loneliness and isolation after weeks of following stay-at-home orders. There is another condition besides COVID-19 contributing to these feelings, however, and it affects one in five people: hearing loss.
Hearing loss makes connecting with others difficult. Because of this, many people with the condition lose interest in their hobbies, opting to stay home rather than go out and risk feeling uncomfortable when they can’t follow the conversation. Unfortunately, this can have devastating impacts. One Dutch study estimates that every decibel drop in hearing ability increases odds of becoming severely lonely by seven percent in people under 70.
Risks of Loneliness
Loneliness is now considered as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is linked to a number of negative health conditions, including high blood pressure, elevated stress hormones, weakened immune system and depression. In addition, social isolation raises the risk of dementia by 40 percent and the odds of early death by 26 percent.
Hearing loss itself was found in a study published in Jama Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery to increase the risk of dementia by 50 percent, depression by 40 percent and falls by 30 percent over a 10-year period.
“Hearing loss is really linked with loneliness,” said Frank Lin, director of Johns Hopkins’ Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health. Currently, Lin’s research team is seeking to determine whether hearing treatment can prevent or slow the rate of cognitive decline, as well as what impact hearing treatment has on feelings of loneliness. The trial is expected to be completed in 2022.
Connection Between Loneliness and Cognitive Decline
It’s unclear exactly how hearing loss contributes to dementia, but loneliness is likely a major factor. As stated above, loneliness raises stress hormones and also inflammation, both of which can contribute to dementia. When people with hearing loss avoid social interactions, their brains are stimulated less than they should be, which also can contribute to the rate of decline.
Treating Hearing Loss
While many speculate that treating hearing loss could reduce feelings of loneliness, social isolation and cognitive decline, only one in five people who could benefit from hearing aids actually uses them.
For more information or to seek help for your hearing loss, call the experts at San Francisco Audiology today.