The Hidden Cost of Hearing Loss

By Georgia Hearing Center

Hearing loss is one of the most common health problems in the over-50 population, with more than 30 million Americans affected. Only hypertension and arthritis are more common.
It is also the most untreated problem in that age group. Most people with hearing loss never seek help: it’s estimated that only about one in four of those who could benefit from hearing aids actually get them.

According to a large study by the National Council on the Aging, people with untreated hearing loss are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and social isolation than those who get help. Several studies have demonstrated that untreated hearing loss also has significant negative effects on the family. Untreated hearing loss can also affect workplace performance.

Audiologists have been aware of the problem of untreated hearing loss for many years. Now other professionals are paying attention. Since 2003, the Journal of the American Medical Association has published three major articles on the importance of identifying and treating hearing loss. The National Council on the Aging recommended that people who may have hearing loss should “seek appropriate screening, diagnosis and treatment.”

Why does it go undetected?

Why does hearing loss often go unnoticed and untreated? Why is it that when you recommend that a friend or family member get help, you often hear, “Oh, I hear fine. It’s just that some people mumble.”

Here are some reasons why hearing loss fools so many people:

It’s gradual.

Adult onset hearing loss can develop so slowly that the person doesn’t notice any change from year to year. A small decrease in hearing sensitivity may not be serious, but 20 or 30 years of losing a decibel of hearing sensitivity adds up to a very significant loss. Unfortunately, the person with the loss doesn’t realize anything has changed.

It’s partial.

At first, hearing loss may affect only certain frequencies. Most commonly, hearing loss occurs only for high-pitched sounds. That’s why many sounds- an air conditioner, voices over the telephone- still sound normal. Voices may be loud enough, but clarity is diminished. Also, the person may hear loud sounds as well as everyone else. He or she may think, “If some sounds are too loud – how can I have a hearing loss?

It’s painless.

Although ear infection or impacted ear can cause discomfort, most cases of hearing loss cause no pain or any sensation. In some cases, Tinnitus – a ringing, buzzing or hissing sound in the ear- may be a sign of hearing loss.

It’s embarrassing.

Most people don’t want to admit that they’re not as ‘whole’ as they once were. Some are concerned that hearing loss will make them appear older or less competent. The results- pretending to have heard what was said- can cause more problems than the hearing loss itself.

An individual’s refusal to recognize hearing loss is sometimes described as denial. But because hearing loss is gradual, partial, painless – and may be embarrassing – there are good reasons why hearing loss fools people and why the person with the hearing loss is often the last one to know.

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