It’s common to feel lonely from time to time, especially as we age. When we are younger, relationships are forged at school and work. We also tend to have more energy and more mobile. However, for older adults, many barriers make socialization more difficult. The loss of a close loved one, injuries, chronic pain, or retirement all make loneliness a serious condition.
Humans are social creatures who often get energy and a sense of belonging by interacting regularly with others. It’s important to do what we can to stay connected and engaged with loved ones and the community. Getting out more and trying new things seems like a good method to stay active and social but this becomes more complicated for those who suffer from hearing loss.
Loneliness and Your Health
Due to health factors, changes in lifestyle, and the loss of loved ones, loneliness is a serious and chronic condition for many older adults. Not only does loneliness lead to depression, but is a serious health factor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention likened to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Loneliness increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Other studies have found a strong connection between increased rates of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke for those who feel chronically alone. Loneliness can even increase your mortality rate by 26 percent!
Age-Related Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is in most cases a permanent condition that can affect anyone of any age at any time. There are several causes such as exposure to loud noise, certain medications, environmental toxins, impact on the head, or even chronic infection. However, the most common cause of hearing loss is presbycusis. Also known as age-related hearing loss, presbycusis affects one in three people over the age of 65 and half of those 75 years and older. When we struggle to hear it can contribute to feeling alone even when surrounded by others, and self-isolation.
Hearing Loss and Loneliness
It’s hard enough when health conditions and chronic pain make it hard to connect to others. Hearing loss increases the strife in making connections when conversations are strained at home, at work, among peers, and even during small interactions on the street. Miscommunications become normal and can contribute to social anxiety. When hearing loss sets in parts of words and tones are lost. This leaves gaps in perception which causes the brain to work overtime to fill in the gaps. This causes listening fatigue and can leave a person feeling drained even from a small social interaction. Over time it’s all too common for older adults with unaddressed hearing loss to avoid social interactions altogether, contributing to loneliness.
The Importance of Connection
Connection with others isn’t just something that we crave- It’s essential to our health. In the same manner that our body requires vitamins, minerals, proper nutrition, and rest, we rely on social interaction to give meaning and purpose to our lives. When we don’t get a social connection, our body needs the body reacts with an elevated feeling of stress and anxiety. This can cause the body to produce more cortisol, the stress hormone that regulates our fight and flight response. This puts us in a constant state of prepared to deal with danger and keeps our body from getting the rest it needs.
Treating Hearing Loss to Decrease Feelings of Loneliness
One way to combat loneliness is to address a hearing loss. While hearing loss is almost always irreversible it can be treated effectively with hearing aids. These amazing electronic devices can be programmed to amplify just the sounds you struggle with. This allows you to connect to people, feeling confident that you can hear what they are saying. This is the backbone of healthy relationships and it’s common for people who treat their hearing loss to try new things, go more places, feel more independent and increase their overall quality of life.
Take the Steps Towards Better Connection
There are a lot of factors that affect loneliness. However, by treating hearing loss you are giving yourself the tools to reach out and do something about it. The first step is to schedule a hearing exam. We can test your hearing and help you find the best solution for you and your lifestyle!
As we discussed previously, long term untreated hearing loss can have profound physical, mental, and emotional effects for seniors. But there is substantial evidence that taking steps to improve our hearing will go a long way to ensuring our physical and mental well-being as we age. We are living longer, healthier and more actively than our parents generation. We take care of ourselves, and we refuse to sit on the sidelines of life. Since we are living longer, we certainly want to age well, and our generation (the Baby Boomers) tends to “take the Bull by the horn.” But it’s important to understand that we don’t treat hearing loss just to hear with more clarity. We treat hearing loss to improve our quality of life, and the longevity of that quality! Addressing and treating hearing loss can be a long, sometimes challenging process, but most of us are up to the challenge. There are many benefits to treating our hearing loss. Here are just a few: