In recent years there has been some startling research regarding how hearing loss can contribute to cognitive decline and its effect on mental health. Prior to having physical data from imaging and objective test techniques we relied on subjective measures, in other words questionnaires. These questionnaires that patients fill out are still very valuable research tools we can use as clinicians. In 1999 the National Council on the Aging in the United States reported on a concept and thought that practicing clinicians already knew from their experiences and their patients. Untreated hearing loss can lead to an increased likelihood of social isolation, depression and a reduced quality of life. The results were not unexpected, but it was a large enough study with over 4,300 respondents, that patients and consumers started to take notice.
The same study also found that those individuals who wore hearing aids reported a better quality of life. The patients’ families also reported that they noticed a significant difference pre and post fitting of hearing aids. This research study is just one of many in recent years that reported the benefits of hearing aids on one’s mental health and their quality of life.
The take away from previous and current research is that untreated hearing loss can lead to more than just a few frustrating conversations. It can lead to cognitive decline, social isolation, a poorer quality of life, and falls among other things. All of these can be helped or mitigated in most cases by properly dispensed amplification such as hearing aids as well as proper aural rehabilitation by an Audiologist. Hearing aids alone are beneficial; however proper aural rehabilitation and counseling by an Audiologist is often forgot about when treating a patient with hearing loss. An Audiologist can help set realistic expectations for a patient and assist them throughout the process of wearing and accepting their hearing aids.
Written by: Kevin Kimball, B.S., Doctor of Audiology Student, Arizona State University