Hearing Loss: An Underrated Cause of Loneliness
Loneliness is often cited as a serious health risk, especially for older adults. In the U.S., an AARP survey reports that over 35% of those 45 years of age and older are lonely.
Maybe friends or family members have moved away or even died. Maybe jobs have been lost and relationships have fallen apart. Maybe health issues keep people house-bound. However, there is another concern that must be added to the list of reasons why social isolation is on the rise, even among the not-so-old. Hearing Loss!
How might hearing loss contribute to loneliness?
Hearing loss is an isolating, chronic communication disorder that affects every aspect of a person’s life. It weakens social networks. It interferes with verbal communication with loved ones and workplace colleagues. It undermines productivity, threatens social connections and takes a good chunk out of one’s quality of life.
The major issue is the inability to understand speech, especially in background noise, which many perceive as embarrassing. The desire to mix and mingle gradually erodes away and the slow slide into isolation begins. It is hard to keep up with others, to join groups or to participate in activities when one does not hear well and understands even less. People lose interest and stay away.
Those with hearing loss often state that they feel on the “outside” of conversations or group activities even with people whom they have known for a long time. Besides, hearing loss is tiring. Listening effort turns social activities into exhausting chores.
Heightened medical awareness needed
Among the many reasons why people feel socially isolated and disconnected, hearing loss draws little attention from medical specialists. It might not even be suspected ─ especially in younger people ─ because in a quiet office even those with hearing challenges can handle one-on-one conversations relatively well.
Doctors and medical practitioners must become a lot more aware that hearing issues definitely belong on the “rule out” list when evaluating symptoms of depression and isolation. Asking some basic communication-related questions and checking ears routinely for wax are good first steps.
Social and professional disengagement due to hearing loss can aggravate existing conditions and lead to further medical problems and increase costs.
In all fairness, many people do not report to their physician that they struggle trying to understand conversations. They do not share that family members or even people at work are frustrated with their hearing issues. However, denial and feeling embarrassed can be harmful in this situation.
Report hearing problems to the doctor. Ask to have the ears checked for wax and get a referral for professional hearing tests. Find out what might be wrong and what types of resources and technology may help. It does not always have to be budget-busting hearing aids
Avoid the isolation trap!
Hearing loss does change lives. This is why it is important to become involved in one’s care and to move forward. Don’t get trapped. Get help. Confide in a family member or friend. Tell the doctor. Making the most of the hearing that is left, is an issue of quality of life for now and for the future so that the music never dies.
For industry Safety Training on Noise-induced Hearing Loss Prevention or for community presentations, please see my website or email [email protected]
To learn about ears and hearing, please see my book on hearing loss: What Did You Say? An Unexpected Journey into the World of Hearing Loss, now in its second updated edition. Sharing my story and what I had to learn the hard way.