7 surprising signs of hearing loss
Cranking up the volume on the television isn’t the only way to tell you have hearing loss. Look for these less obvious signs of hearing loss and learn what to do next.
The science and tools for improving hearing are better than ever. Yet people who start to lose their hearing still wait a long time to get hearing aids — about 9 years on average. Just 30% of people over age 70 who could benefit from hearing aids actually have them.
Why do so many put up with hearing loss for so long? Well, noticing that your hearing is going isn’t as simple as you may think. Some of the telltale signs might be surprising. Even if you do sense that something isn’t right, you could face other obstacles to getting treatment.
“There’s still a stigma that needs to be overcome,” says Larry Medwetsky, Ph.D. Medwetsky is an educational audiologist and professor in the department of hearing, speech, and language services at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Some people don’t seek help because they don’t want to feel old. Or they think hearing aids are too expensive or won’t fix the problem.
But hearing loss should never be ignored. “Untreated hearing loss is not a minor health problem. It’s a major issue that affects many people,” says Medwetsky. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that age-related hearing loss in the U.S. affects about 1 in 3 adults over age 60 and half of adults over 85. Plus, many serious health concerns are linked with hearing loss. On the list:
- Chronic kidney disease.
- Heart disease.
- Lower quality of life.
- Social isolation.
- Cognitive decline.
- More time spent in the hospital.
- Higher health care costs.
If you think you have hearing loss, Medwetsky urges you to visit a trusted audiologist. An audiologist diagnoses and treats hearing and balance issues. They can give you a report on your hearing and share possible solutions. “To avoid doing something about hearing loss is to suffer needlessly,” Medwetsky says.
Not sure if it’s time to make that appointment? To decide, start by paying attention to the clear signs of possible hearing loss. They include being startled easily and not being able to hear conversations and music as you normally would. Then watch for these lesser-known red flags.
For help finding an in-network audiologist, log in to your Wellframe app. This digital health management tool comes free with your health plan. Your care advocate can make a referral and even help set up your appointment. Ask your health plan if you’re eligible for the Wellframe app.
1. You feel more tired.
“Hearing loss is exhausting,” says Medwetsky. When you’re not hearing all the important speech sounds, you might not understand the talk around you. So you have to work hard to figure out what you missed. “The mental effort to try to capture everything becomes much harder,” says Medwetsky. As a result, many people with hearing loss may be wiped out by the end of the day.
2. You fall more often.
Untreated hearing loss has been linked with more falls and balance issues. “The more hearing loss you have, the more likely you’re going to experience a fall,” says Medwetsky. But even mild hearing loss significantly raises your risk of falls. There are a few reasons for the connection.
For one, your brain relies on hearing as a part of balance. When you have hearing loss, your brain has to work harder to process sounds. That leaves less mental energy for things such as staying steady on your feet.
Hearing loss is also linked to greater risk for depression. And depression itself is connected to a higher chance of falling. So treating hearing loss is especially important for seniors who are at risk for serious injuries such as a broken hip.
3: Your family and friends start to wonder about your brain health.
Let’s say you don’t answer someone because you didn’t hear them. Or you do answer, but what you say seems off topic because you didn’t hear the question right. Because you’re not aware of the miscommunication, things might seem fine to you. “The person with hearing loss is often the last to know,” says Medwetsky.
The people around you, though, may start to worry that your odd behavior and responses point to cognitive issues or memory loss. “It’s not always easy to identify when someone has a hearing loss unless you know what you’re looking for,” says Medwetsky.
4. Your relationships suffer.
“Most people who develop hearing loss think it’s a minor problem. They think they can get by,” says Medwetsky. “But communication is one of the most human things that we do. It’s how we connect with others.”
People with untreated hearing loss may feel embarrassed or overwhelmed. They may start to pull away from relationships. Their loved ones can become frustrated by having to repeat themselves or fill in the gaps for others. That can have major fallout. “For example, the divorce rate is significantly higher for individuals who have a serious hearing loss and don’t do anything about it,” says Medwetsky.
5. You stay away from activities you once enjoyed.
Group settings are tricky if you’re hard of hearing, especially if they’re noisy. Think: restaurants, parties, sporting events, and other loud gatherings. That’s because your brain can have a harder time separating background noise from close-up conversations. Soon, it might feel easier to just stay home instead.
6. You have more anxiety and depression.
Missing out on important conversations can cause all sorts of mental stress. “The prevalence of anxiety and depression is much higher in individuals with hearing loss. They feel inadequate, frustrated, and socially more and more isolated,” says Medwetsky. It can create cracks in your social network. And that can have an impact on your physical health.
Having fewer social connections has been linked to a higher risk of health concerns such as:
- High blood pressure.
- Heart disease.
- A weakened immune system.
On the flip side, research shows that having stronger social connections can cut your risk of early death in half.
7. You have signs of dementia.
Hearing loss can speed up the loss of brain cells, causing cognitive decline or dementia. “The prevalence of dementia is higher in individuals with untreated hearing loss,” says Medwetsky. It can cause memory loss, impaired judgment, personality changes, and more. Pulling away from relationships — another side effect of hearing loss — is also a risk for dementia.
Think you might have hearing loss?
First, remember that your hearing is invaluable. And there are devices and treatments that can help improve your hearing. Plus, hearing aids aren’t the big, clunky devices they once were. Many are sleek and small and hardly noticeable.
Need help finding an audiologist? Ask your care advocate through the Wellframe app on your smartphone. They can refer you to someone in-network and help you book the visit. You can use the Wellframe digital health management app as part of your health plan at no extra cost.
Don’t wait years to start hearing better once you notice signs of hearing loss. Taking steps now can help you get back into the conversation.
For more information about hearing loss and treatments, check out the private health resource library in your Wellframe app. You’ll find articles and advice reviewed by medical experts you can trust. Log in or download the Wellframe app today.
- “Quick Statistics About Hearing.” National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, March 25, 2021, https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing#:~:text=About%2028.8%20million%20U.S.%20adults%20could%20benefit%20from%20using%20hearing%20aids.&text=Among%20adults%20aged%2070%20and,percent)%20has%20ever%20used%20them. Accessed February 12, 2022.
- Reed NS, Altan A, and Deal JA. Trends in Health Care Costs and Utilization Associated with Untreated Hearing Loss Over 10 Years. JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery, vol. 145, no. 1, 2019, pp: 27-34.
- “Social Isolation, Loneliness in Older People Pose Health Risks.” National Institute on Aging, April 23, 2019, https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/social-isolation-loneliness-older-people-pose-health-risks#:~:text=Research%20has%20linked%20social%20isolation,Alzheimer’s%20disease%2C%20and%20even%20death. Accessed February 12, 2022.
- Holt-Lunstad J, Robles TF, and Sbarra DA. “Advancing Social Connection as a Public Health Priority in the United States.” American Psychologist, vol. 72, no. 6, 2017, pp: 517-530.
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