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While it may sound strange, the effects of hearing loss reach well beyond your ears. In fact, it can affect you from head to toe. Hearing problems play a role in everything from your brain health and mood to your risk of physical injury. What’s worse is that people with hearing loss wait an average of seven years before seeking help.1 And as more time passes, the chances of hearing loss–related health issues go up.
It shouldn’t be that way. You can catch hearing loss early by staying on top of your annual hearing exams. And there are many ways your doctor can help improve your hearing. They can remove wax blockages, for instance, or recommend hearing aids and amplification devices.
If you’re due — or overdue — for your hearing exam, here are five reasons to schedule one today.
1. Strong hearing helps you stay mentally sharp
Believe it or not, there’s a connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Research has found that the worse your hearing loss is, the greater your risk of developing dementia as you get older.2 This may be partly because hearing loss can exhaust your cognitive reserve. That’s your brain’s ability to improvise and find different ways of completing a task.
Hearing loss can also make it harder to communicate. That can lead some people to avoid doing things that keep the brain active and engaged, such as trying new things and being active.2 “Over time, the less we stimulate the brain and engage our surroundings, the quicker our mental acuity is thought to decline,” says Kenny F. Lin, MD. He’s an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) at Houston Methodist Hospital.
If you’re an Aetna D-SNP member, annual hearing exams are covered, plus you get an annual allowance for hearing aids, which are available at a reduced cost. Go to AetnaMedicare.com/DSNP to learn more about D-SNP plans.
2. Strong hearing helps keep you upbeat
Hearing loss is linked to feelings of depression, anxiety and frustration in adults.1 Older adults with hearing problems have been found to have a nearly 50 percent higher rate of depression, compared to those with healthy hearing.3 “Patients with hearing loss get frustrated with their inability to communicate easily. And as they withdraw from social interactions, they become increasingly at risk for depression,” Dr. Lin notes. “It can feel very powerless.”
3. Strong hearing helps protect your heart
It may surprise you to learn that cardiovascular disease has been linked to hearing loss. Experts aren’t sure which one comes first or if one causes the other. It may be that they share some of the same risk factors.4 For example, researchers know that diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking cause blood vessel damage that can lead to heart disease, explains Elliott D. Kozin, MD, a physician at Mass Eye and Ear in Boston. They believe those same factors hurt the vessels that carry blood to the ears too. And that could lead to hearing loss. So if your ear doctor finds that you have hearing loss, it could be a sign that you’re at risk for heart disease. You should follow up with your primary care physician.5
Aetna D-SNP members get an allowance for certain over-the-counter (OTC) items such as hearing aid batteries. Learn more about D-SNP plans at AetnaMedicare.com/DSNP.
4. Strong hearing helps keep relationships strong
Hearing loss has been found to go together with social isolation and loneliness. It makes sense:6 When partners, family members, friends and co-workers feel like you’re not listening or communicating well with them, they may feel frustrated or hurt. For people who struggle to hear, conversations become less enjoyable. And their self-confidence in social settings can drop. “Over time, this frustration and difficulty communicating can strain personal relationships,” Dr. Lin says.
5. Strong hearing helps stop trips and falls
Older adults with hearing loss have a much higher chance of falling, research has found.7 It may be because they’re losing postural control. That’s the ability to stay in control and balanced during movement.8 That makes sense, because the inner ear plays a role in balance, Dr. Kozin says. Plus, if your hearing is weak and you’re out in public, you may be less likely to hear cars, cyclists or other pedestrians. That can set you up for collisions or other accidents.
The take-home message: If you suspect your hearing isn’t as strong as it used to be, don’t wait to get your hearing checked, advises Dr. Kozin. The same goes if the people in your life have suggested that you’ve missed or misunderstood parts of conversations. It’s not just your hearing that’s at stake — your physical, mental and emotional health are too.
Aetna D-SNP members may be able to take their hearing test from home using a computer or smartphone. Learn more about D-SNP plans at AetnaMedicare.com/DSNP.
1Hearing Loss Association of America. Hearing Loss Facts and Statistics. May 2018. Accessed July 14, 2021.
2Lin FR, Metter EJ, O’Brien RJ, et al. Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. Archives of Neurology. February 2011; 68 (2): 214-220.
3Lawrence BJ, Jayakody DMP, Bennett RJ, et al. Hearing loss and depression in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Gerontologist. April 2, 2020; 60 (3): e137-e154.
4Tan HE, Lan NSR, Knuiman MW, et al. Associations between cardiovascular disease and its risk factors with hearing loss — a cross-sectional analysis. Clinical Otolaryngology. February 2018; 43 (1): 172-181.
5The Triological Society. Low-frequency hearing loss may indicate cardiovascular disease. ENTtoday. September 1, 2009. Accessed July 14, 2021.
6Maharani A, Pendleton N, and Leroi I. Hearing impairment, loneliness, social isolation, and cognitive function: longitudinal analysis using English longitudinal study on ageing. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. December 2019; 27 (12): 1348-1356.
7Jiam NT-L, Li C, Agrawal Y. Hearing loss and falls: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Laryngoscope. November 2016; 126 (11): 2587-2596.
8Agmon M, Lavie L. Doumas M. The association between hearing loss, postural control, and mobility in older adults: a systematic review. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology. June 2017; 28 (6): 575-588.
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