Untreated hearing loss is an issue of safety, mental health
Untreated hearing loss can give rise to a number of problems, including depression and anxiety. The first step to addressing those concerns is as simple as taking a hearing test.
Reduced hearing loss means reduced sensory input, or the feeling that the walls are closing in on a person. This leads to symptoms that can mirror certain cognitive disorders, such as dementia. People who have hearing loss can fail to respond, or fail to respond in the appropriate way or in a timely fashion. Brenda Haugen, who owns AudioCare Hearing Center in Grand Forks, says people can misconstrue those symptoms in their older relatives.
“You have a lot of people who are homebound. They become depressed and anxious and their anxiety level goes up,” Haugen said. “People say 'you're getting senile, you're getting paranoid.' These are all problems that are related to not hearing.”
Haugen has a poster on the wall in her Grand Forks office, at 2812 17th Ave. S. Suite E, that lists the symptomatic similarities between Alzheimer’s disease and untreated hearing loss. The two read much the same.
For Alzheimer’s disease, symptoms include depression, anxiety, disorientation and defensiveness. For untreated hearing loss: Depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation and defensiveness.
But it isn't just misidentifying the effects of hearing loss with a cognitive disorder. Safety issues also arise when a person can’t hear a fire alarm, the doorbell or telephone. Being able to do so is crucial for people who want to stay in their homes as they age, and taking a hearing test and using hearing amplification devices is a step in that direction.
Family members play an important role in helping their aging parents identify and deal with hearing loss, but some people resist having their hearing tested, out of fear of what the results might be. Men in particular, Haugen said, feel that using hearing aids means a loss of masculinity. Children can talk with their parents to reassure them that there are options to help with hearing loss.
“That's a very emotional thing and I think that people need to understand, kids need to understand, that you do have control over helping them become better, safer,” she said.
Still, not everyone wants to take that first step. Another symptom of untreated hearing loss is denying that it is even happening. In some cases it takes a traumatic event, an embarrassing social situation or a mistake in the workplace to spur a person to get their hearing tested and adopt the use of hearing aids.
Hearing loss may also have an impact on balance, since people with untreated hearing loss exist in a sphere of reduced sensory input. "The biggest thing is not having the input to orient yourself with your surroundings,” Haugen said.