Hearing Problems May Lead to Mobility Issues

Hearing Center of Hawaii - Hearing Problems May Lead to Mobility Issues
Dr. Howard Tamashiro

Hearing loss has been linked to a number of conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, and stress. These related medical issues provide a strong incentive for people experiencing changes in their hearing to seek a hearing test and treatment as soon as possible. In recent years, with innovations in hearing technology and increased awareness around hearing loss, people continue to lead rich and fulfilling lives.

Untreated hearing loss can have insidious effects that we may not even notice at first. One such effect is issues with mobility, as revealed by new studies.

Studies from Finland Reveal Limited Movement Linked to Hearing Loss

A collaborative series of studies from Finland – with researchers from the University of Jyvaskyla and the University of Tampere – reveal that “the movement of older people often is negatively affected as a result of their hearing loss.” In turn, this could lead to a lower quality of life.

In a series of studies, researchers monitored 848 men and women, between the ages of 75 and 90. Over a two-year monitoring period, researchers found that “people who were hard of hearing were more than twice as likely as others to limit their movement only to nearby areas.” Results from the studies also show that “people who experienced hearing problems in different everyday situations moved less within their local area than those who considered their hearing to be good.”

According to doctoral student Hannele Polku, one of the researchers, “We observed that older people with hearing problems have more limited life space, and that these problems lower their quality of life.”

These studies were published in Journal of Gerontology (2016) and BMC Geriatrics (2015), and were part of the international project, “Hearing, Remembering, and Living Well.”

How Hearing Loss Affects Every Day Life

From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, and even while you are asleep, your sense of hearing is on and keeps you connected to the world around you. This is why alarms that rely on sound are so effective, from your clocks to your fire detection systems. Unlike other senses, hearing is invisible but always functioning.

Beyond safety and security, our sense of hearing is crucial to our relationships, whether personal or professional. Studies have indicated that interpersonal relationships tend to suffer if one partner experiences untreated hearing loss. On the job, hearing loss could interfere with concentration, communication, memory, and productivity.

Your sense of hearing helps you with awareness of the space around you. If you’re going to the grocery store, hearing helps you from the moment you step out the door, while you’re driving, and when you’re shopping and paying for your goods. It’s no wonder that hearing loss, if left untreated, could severely impact your daily activities.

Of course, this differs from person to person, as we all go about our days differently. “According to our study, audiometrically measured hearing alone is not a sufficient measure of how people experience their hearing problems and how these affect their everyday lives. For example, a person with many everyday social contacts and communication with others may feel that even a minor hearing loss may affect their everyday functioning. On the other hand, a person more inclined to enjoy domestic tasks carried out on one’s own doesn’t experience the same number of problems due to a change of similar degree in hearing,” says Polku.

Identifying & Treating Hearing Loss

Because hearing loss is invisible, and it tends to occur gradually over an extended period of time, we may not be aware that we are experiencing hearing loss. In fact, most people wait an average of seven years from the time they first experience changes in their hearing until they decide to seek treatment.

Signs of hearing loss include: turning up the volume to maximum level; thinking that people are mumbling; frequently asking people to repeat what they’ve said; and avoiding social situations where you may struggle to communicate.

Untreated hearing loss can impact your quality of life, at home and on the job. Hearing specialists encourage people to take a comprehensive hearing test annually, especially those who are age 50 and older. By monitoring your hearing, we can keep track of your abilities and recommend treatment for any changes.

For more information on hearing tests, and to schedule a hearing exam, contact us at Hearing Center of Hawaii.