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A common misconception is that experiencing loneliness has nothing to do with physically being alone. Loneliness is a feeling of disconnection and isolation from the world around you. While we can often be surrounded by people, the loneliness endemic has become intensified in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic starting in early 2020. When public health measures required people to quarantine at home, wear masks and social distance feelings of loneliness across the world led to higher instances of associated health risks.
What can you do to stay connected? Many studies link hearing loss to higher rates of loneliness and social isolation. Do you have a hearing loss? Well, you may and not even know it. Hearing loss often starts slowly, subtly that you don’t even realize as you lose parts of words and overtime, words in sentences. This May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, a campaign led by ASHA (American Speech-language-Hearing Association to raise awareness and promote the importance of treatment. This year’s theme could not come at a better time. “Connecting People” means addressing hearing loss and fighting the isolation which it often causes.
Causes and Effects of Loneliness
Loneliness can occur to anyone at any time however it is more likely as we as such to factors such as life transitions, loved ones passing away, moving to a different city, retiring, or mobility and health issue. Loneliness and depression in older adults can cause an increased risk of an array of health issues such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, poor immunity, anxiety, cognitive impairment, and dementia. Dr. Steve Cole, Ph.D., director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California, LA, describes loneliness as “a fertilizer for other diseases and promotes several different types of wear and tear on the body.”
Connecting Loneliness and Hearing Loss
Another common ailment with age is hearing loss. One in three people over the age of 65 have hearing loss and this number rises to one in two past the age of 75. By 80 years old there is an 80% chance you’ll have some hearing loss. With hearing loss, comes a struggle to follow everyday conversations everywhere you go from work, to home to social life. Parts of words are often hard to hear, causing the brain to strain to fill in the gaps. This makes socializing an exhausting task even for those who used to relish in the being surrounded with friends and family. It’s all too common for older adults with hearing loss to start to choose to isolate rather than socialize due to the stress it causes.
Understanding the Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss effects 1 in 8 people 12 years and older in both ears, based on standard hearing exams and with every decibel drop in loss, it increases the likelihood of experiencing loneliness by 7%. Because hearing loss is often difficult to self-diagnose, it’s important to know the signs. They may already be happening daily, and you don’t even realize it. Do people sound sometimes like they are muffled? Do you have to ask people to repeat themselves more and more often? Do you have regular conflict over the volume of the Television? You want it turned up more while others complain it’s too loud? These are common signs of hearing loss and if not addressed in a timely manner they can escalate into depression, anxiety social isolation, loneliness and even cognitive decline leading to higher risks of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Treating Hearing Loss
While hearing loss in most cases is irreversible it can be treated effectively using hearing aids. Hearing aids amplify sounds which could not otherwise be heard, allowing people to connect to the people in their life. This not only gives people the chance to rebuild relationships but can help people to feel more self-confident, try new things, go new places and get more out of life in general. However, because hearing loss has in the past been regarded as a mild ailment it is often difficult to this day to get healthcare to cover the cost of treatment or even a hearing exam. Even so, due to public education and events such as BHSM, attitudes are changing around hearing loss as a far-reaching aspect of our health. This May schedule a hearing exam and get back on a path of connecting to those you love.