Hearing loss is a daunting possibility for anyone. Losing a sense is like losing a connection to the world, as there’s one less channel through which you can experience life.
And while hearing loss is its own problem, it can also come with its own undesirable side effects that can wreak havoc on a person’s life.
Like all medical conditions, someone with hearing loss might not find themselves with every one of these side effects, but there’s enough of a correlation to warrant discussion.
To go straight to the heart of the issue, we thought we’d ask audiologist Dr Lindsey Banks about what she’s witnessed and treated in terms of hearing loss side effects.
Hi Lindsey! To lead off with a simple question – other than having a harder time hearing, what are some of the more common side effects of hearing loss that you’ve either seen in your profession, or are widely known in the audiology world?
Lindsey Banks, Au.D.: “There are a lot of side effects of hearing loss. One would be falling or imbalance – people are more likely to have balance issues and the risk of falling increases around threefold when you have hearing loss.
“Depression and loneliness as well. Obviously you’re not as able to communicate with your friends and loved ones, so people are more likely to experience isolation due to hearing loss.
“A big one is fatigue. It takes a lot of effort to “try to hear,” especially when you’re in a group or a noisy setting, so people will actually experience fatigue, especially after a long day of communicating.
“And finally, a lot of research lately has been focused on memory loss and dementia, and those being side effects of having hearing loss. This is a pretty recent development, so a lot of research is looking into this now.”
So it’s known that hearing loss can be brought upon someone from any number of causes. Whether it’s noise-induced, old age, unlucky genetics, etc. Is there any correlation between the cause and side effects? For example, is presbycusis (age-induced hearing loss) known for causing more balance issues than noise-induced hearing loss?
Lindsey Banks, Au.D.: “Not really, no. However there has been some research that shows that noise-induced hearing loss can have some greater processing side effects. So while you can notice hearing loss by being able to hear less sound, you may also notice your neural processing ability being affected if you’re experiencing noise-induced hearing loss.
“Otherwise, the side effects are more related to severity of loss rather than cause.
“Also, since presbycusis is age-related hearing loss you are more likely to experience some other compounding factors due to poor eyesight etc. or other sensory issues. Obviously you’d then be more likely to suffer imbalance, so everything adds up.”
Getting a hearing aid helps someone recover some of their hearing ability, but can it help them deal with the rest of these possible hearing loss issues?
Lindsey Banks, Au.D.: “Yeah! That’s one thing that’s exciting about hearing aids – they don’t just help someone with their ability to hear, but research is showing that wearing hearing aids can reduce the load on the brain and help with memory recall and those fatigue problems.
“Plus it keeps the person connected to their loved ones, reducing the risk of depression, isolation and loneliness.”
Other than getting a hearing aid, is there any kind of treatment or therapy you can recommend for someone dealing with both hearing loss and its side effects?
Lindsey Banks, Au.D.: “Anything that can strengthen the brain is a good idea. Hearing loss actually occurs in the brain, so there are brain activities or training that focus on improving or maintaining speech processing abilities.
“Taking an online program or rehab class is a great idea, whether someone needs a hearing aid or not. If someone is having trouble hearing someone through noise, they can actually practice that skill and improve.”
What kind of programs are these?
Lindsey Banks, Au.D.: “Lumosity is a big one that people use to keep their brains active in general, but that doesn’t focus as much on speech-processing, since it’s more of a puzzle thing to strengthen the brain’s neural pathways.
“But there are some that are more auditory focused. For example, BrainHQ is an online site that you can sign up for, and it will take you through some different training classes that can help with your processing ability in complex or noisy situations, or even scenarios with multiple voices.”
Do you think these apps can help someone trying to prevent hearing loss before it happens?
Lindsey Banks, Au.D.: “I don’t know if it would help prevent hearing loss, since if those natural structures are going to decline, that’s going to happen no matter what, at least as far as the ear goes.
“But they can definitely help prevent processing decline. Hearing loss has two parts, the inability to hear sound and the inability to process sound, so it can definitely help with the latter.
“But really the best way to prevent hearing loss is to get your hearing tested and treated as soon as you notice any kind of hearing loss. Research shows that the longer you wait, the more your processing ability will decline. So the sooner get that stimulus back to your brain, the better your processing skills will be.
“And like everything else, it’s a lot easier to maintain mental processing ability than it is to recover it. You need to make sure you’re using it regularly, because it’s a lot harder to get it back.”
Thanks for all that information, Lindsey! That was pretty fascinating, and not what someone might first assume about hearing loss and the things that can result from it.
Hearing loss isn’t an isolated issue. It is a large health complication that can lead to a web of other problems as time goes on.
The best way to combat this is by undergoing a hearing test, and using a prescribed hearing aid. If you’re looking for a hearing test, then fill out our form. You’ll be matched up with a hearing specialist in your area, and they’ll be able to offer you a free consultation.