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Hearing loss is one of America’s most common chronic health conditions – and it is also one of the most under treated health issues facing people today. People who are diagnosed with hearing loss, or who sense a change in the way they hear very often don’t seek treatment for their condition. This has been linked to a number of factors, including the often gradual and painless onset of hearing loss which makes it harder to acknowledge the impact of hearing loss on everyday life.
Unfortunately, not treating hearing loss can have big consequences. Hearing loss is connected to our health as a whole, and problems like hearing loss can be indicative of other health issues as well as bring about new problems. One serious concern is the connection between hearing health and cognitive performance. Untreated hearing loss has been shown to strain cognitive skills and is connected with a higher risk of dementia.
Now, recent research is showing that even mild hearing loss can cause cognitive issues, Mild hearing loss is often the first stage of gradual hearing loss. It frequently goes unacknowledged and unaddressed. However, as this new link shows, any change in hearing ability is important to have examined and treated.
Mild Hearing Loss
Degrees of hearing loss are determined by the threshold sound volume, measured in decibels, that proves challenging for your hearing. Mild hearing loss is the term used to designate that a person has difficulty hearing and comprehending sounds under 40 decibels (dB). Sounds under 40 dB can be described as quiet. A still room, whispered speech and leaves rustling are examples of sounds around 40 dB or under.
Because the sound levels associated with mild hearing loss are naturally quite quiet, it can be hard for people experiencing it to recognize a problem. Instead, mild hearing loss may seem like something to ignore or brush off.
Sadly, mild hearing loss is the degree of hearing loss that is most responsive to treatment. Treating hearing loss early before it worsens gives you a better connection to “natural” sound perception and can help curb the bigger health impacts of hearing loss.
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Performance
While many people are unaware of the connection between hearing loss and cognitive skills, the two are directly connected. A compromised sense of hearing means that your brain has to constantly hustle to comprehend incoming sound information. Imagine trying to complete a crossword puzzle with only half the clues – with hearing loss your mind is constantly trying to deduce missing information, usually from context clues. The result is often both frustrating and prone to error.
Worse still, when your mind is trying to comprehend incomplete sound it requires more resources than healthy hearing. Extra attention and focus are pulled away from other parts of cognitive functioning and redistributed to assist with hearing. The result can shortchange other aspects of your everyday life, like your balance and coordination. It can also strain your ability to perform cognitive tasks. The way in which hearing loss reorders cognitive priorities may be part of why hearing loss elevates risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Looking at data from over 6,400 study subjects, research has now confirmed that even hearing loss classified as mild has a significant impact on cognitive functioning. Those with mild hearing loss demonstrated reduced cognition when compared to those with healthy hearing. This highlights the necessity of both recognizing and treating hearing loss at all stages. Mild hearing loss too often goes unacknowledged and is more able to go undetected than other degrees of hearing loss.
What is important to understand with these new findings is that even if your hearing issue seems like “no big deal” in truth, it may be harming you in ways that are difficult to perceive. Hearing loss at all levels requires more from our mental faculties, but in turn leaves us with less resources. Without treatment, mild hearing loss can be tiring. It has also been shown to affect social engagement, mobility and quality of life.
Choosing to treat mild hearing loss is an investment in your health. If you have a hearing concern or want to learn more about your hearing health and options, contact us today!