4 Ways Hearing Aids Improve Your Health
Many of the best over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids have gone on sale recently, making these potentially expensive medical devices more accessible than ever. Hearing aids certainly help with hearing, but many people don’t realize they can also help maintain mental, emotional, and even physical health.
Learn more about the numerous health benefits a great hearing aid can provide as you age.
Ready to Buy? Check out our updated list of the best over-the-counter hearing aid brands.
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline
Cognitive decline is a major concern as you age; 6.5 million people ages 65 and older were living with Alzheimer’s disease as of 2022. Many people suffer from cognitive decline due to natural changes, but other factors can contribute to it as well, including hearing loss.
Hearing loss affects cognitive function through a complex system of sensory input and physiological adjustment. As your body becomes accustomed to not being able to hear well, your brain becomes less active, leading to cognitive gaps similar to those caused by social isolation and sensory deprivation. In other words, less activity means less acuity. In the same way that having fun and socializing can improve cognitive functioning, hearing loss can cause or contribute to its decline.
More research is needed on exactly how it happens, but a 25-year study that concluded in 2015 and was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society demonstrated that hearing aid use was associated with lower cognitive decline in a sample of nearly 3,700 adults ages 65 and older. That provides an excellent basis for using hearing aids as a safety net against cognitive decline as you age.
Hearing Loss and Falls
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 million seniors end up in the emergency room for injuries sustained from a fall, including 95 percent of all hip fractures. Since the risk of falling increases as you age, fall prevention remains a major focus for older adults and their families. Many, however, don’t realize there’s a proven link between hearing loss and the risk of falling.
A study conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine on over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69 found that mild hearing loss was associated with a three-fold increase in the risk of falling. Every 10 decibels of hearing loss above that resulted in another 1.4-fold risk. According to the study, there are two possible reasons for this connection: sensory awareness and cognitive load.
Sensory awareness describes how well our bodies can detect our surroundings. People with hearing loss may not be as aware of their environment, which can result in tripping. When one of our senses is impaired, our brains can overload trying to pick up the slack. That results in cognitively demanding tasks, such as keeping your balance, becoming more difficult due to the strain created by hearing loss.
Knowing the fatality rate among seniors due to falling injuries and the connection between falling risk and hearing loss, hearing aids could be a literal lifesaver.
Did you know falls are a leading cause of injury among seniors? To learn how to get help in these scenarios, read our guide to medical alert systems with fall detection.
Hearing Loss and Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease has a high prevalence in older adults, as well as a high morbidity rate. According to the American Heart Association, between 75.4 percent and 77.5 percent of seniors ages 60 to 79 have some degree of cardiovascular disease. Research has not found a link between cardiovascular disease and hearing loss that suggests one causes the other, but the conditions are linked due to the importance of blood flow for normal hearing.
Our ears need healthy blood flow in numerous small arteries to maintain healthy hearing. Since cardiovascular disease can inhibit that flow, it can lead to damage to the auditory system. The result, according to the American Academy of Audiology, is called “sensorineural hearing loss,” a permanent type of hearing loss that must be managed with amplification devices.
Even though hearing aids cannot prevent cardiovascular disease, they are instrumental in treating one of its many damaging effects. With nearly 700,000 people dying from heart disease every year in the United States alone, catching a heart issue early can give you a much better chance of reversing or treating it.
Since hearing loss could be an early warning sign of heart disease, speak with your doctor about your heart health in connection to any new loss of hearing you may be experiencing.
Hearing Loss and Mental Health
If cognitive decline is a state of being, we can think of mental health as a state of feeling. It may not have as direct an impact on a health assessment, but anxiety and depression are significant factors in measuring a person’s quality of life at any age. The National Council on Aging breaks down the prevalence of depression in seniors by their living situation, estimating that as many as 5 percent of seniors in the general population, 11.5 percent in hospitals, and 13.5 percent with home health care have some level of depression.
The effects of depression are not limited to a bad mood. Impaired sleep, irregular eating, anxiety, stress, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can all result from depression. Depression can be exacerbated by hearing loss due to its effects on social engagement and environmental awareness. You may feel embarrassed in social or work situations, angry that you can’t hear the television or your family, and ultimately avoid important daily tasks out of frustration. That can snowball with depression into a dangerous stress cocktail that includes social avoidance, impaired judgment, irregular sleeping and eating habits, and eventual cognitive and physical decline.
Just as losing the ability to hear can lead to feelings of inadequacy, regaining it can reverse the symptoms of isolation and depression. In a study conducted for the Gerontologist, more than 146,000 participants were found to be 1.54 times more likely to experience symptoms of depression in the presence of hearing loss than people with normal hearing.
It is important to notice the signs of hearing loss early. Early detection could potentially prevent concurrent mental health decline related to anxiety and social isolation associated with hearing loss.
Hearing aids are not a cure for hearing loss. Loss of hearing is often a normal sign of aging, but it can also be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as cardiovascular disease. Hearing aids can assist in treating the symptoms of hearing loss, but they should not replace a physician’s examination into its potential causes.
If you believe you may benefit from hearing aids, it’s important to match the capabilities of the technology with your needs. Remember that not all hearing aids treat all kinds of hearing loss. Some OTC hearing aids are a waste of money, while others could be ideal for your situation.
To help you find the best hearing aid for your physical and mental health, we’ve compiled several lists of hearing aids for all types of users.