We usually think of hearing loss as a condition mostly affecting aging adults. The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that approximately one-third of people ages 65 to 74 and almost half of individuals 75 years and over experienced some form of hearing loss in a 2010 study. Of greater concern to me is the fact that only about 20% of those with a treatable hearing loss seek help. Untreated hearing loss comes with a number of costly social, health, and financial consequences.

Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss for Adults

When hearing loss remains untreated, it reduces a person’s quality of life and threatens their independence. An inability to understand and communicate with family and friends often leads to withdrawal from family, friends, and social gatherings. Additionally, adults with an untreated hearing loss are dependent upon others to assist them with everyday tasks that require hearing as an integral part of communication.

The inability to communicate leads to social withdrawal, often taking its toll on a person living with hearing loss in the form of depression and anxiety. However, these are not the only mental health-related consequences of leaving hearing loss untreated. A link to cognitive decline is among the most serious of the possible mental health issues. A 2012 Johns Hopkins study established a 50 percent increased risk in developing dementia and a 40 percent risk of developing depression in patients with an untreated hearing loss.

Untreated hearing loss in adults also contributes significantly to increased costs for health care. Balance and other issues related to inner ear function lead to more frequent and more prolonged hospitalizations along with increased admissions and more ER visits with cost increases averaging about 46 percent for a total of $22,434 per person over a decade, according to a separate 2018 study at Johns Hopkins.

Consequences of Untreated Hearing Loss for Children

Although hearing loss mostly affects aging adults, children, and young adults also experience it as well. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that of the 466 million individuals diagnosed with a hearing loss worldwide, 46 million of them are children. As bad as untreated hearing loss is for adults, it has much more severe consequences for children. Children can suffer from the same issues of depression and anxiety, decreased quality of life and independence, and cognitive decline. Worse yet, children with a hearing impairment usually struggle with acquiring language and developing social skills. Failure to develop in this area leads to speech delays and poor academic performance. These are consequences that negatively impact children throughout their lifetime.

What to Do If You Suspect Hearing Loss

Regardless of whether you suspect a hearing loss in an adult or child, it is critical to seek help as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss allow audiologists to provide the most effective solutions before conditions worsen. Scheduling a hearing assessment is the first step in receiving the help needed to prevent hearing loss from getting worse. An audiologist has the expertise and equipment necessary to identify and treat hearing loss as well as provide guidance related to avoiding additional damage.

The team at Alabama Hearing Associates, and I are passionate about preventing the costly consequences of an untreated hearing loss. I encourage those who suspect that they or a loved one are experiencing a hearing loss to come in for a hearing assessment as early as possible rather than taking a wait and see approach. We provide excellent hearing care to individuals of all ages in North Alabama and the Tennessee Valley. Contact us to learn more about how Alabama Hearing Associates can prevent further damage from hearing loss or set up an appointment for a hearing test.

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Dr. Susan Sheehy

Dr. Sheehy earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in audiology at the University of Alabama before beginning her career as a clinical audiologist in Huntsville. In 2005, she received her doctorate in audiology from Salus University. Dr. Sheehy is one of a specialized subset of audiologists certified in tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). By appointment from the governor, she has served as a member and chairperson of the Alabama Board of Examiners in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.
    Basic Hearing Test

    A basic hearing test begins with an air conduction test. You will be seated in a soundproof booth and single-use, foam earphones will be inserted into your ear canals. The Audiologist will ask you to push a button or raise your hand when you barely hear a series of beeps (tones) presented at various frequencies (pitches) to obtain your air conduction thresholds.

    To determine whether your hearing loss is a conductive (mechanical) loss, sensorineural (permanent) loss or combination of the two, we perform a bone conduction test.  

    For this test, a head band is place on the bone behind one of the ears to obtain your bone conduction thresholds. This process provides a different form of sound transmission using vibration, which bypasses the eardrum and the middle ear bones and directly stimulates the auditory nerve. When you hear the beeps/tones, you will push a button or raise your hand.

    If bone conduction thresholds are better than air conduction thresholds (through the foam inserts), you have a conductive hearing loss. This suggests a problem with the mechanical structures (moving parts) of the ears.

    Conductive hearing loss is often a medically treatable condition for which we will provide you with a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician. However, if bone and air conduction thresholds match, it indicates a sensorineural hearing loss (permanent), and the treatment will likely involve hearing aids.

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