When we think of mobility issues, we usually think about difficulty sitting, standing or running. However, in the context of this article, mobility refers to the movement of a person in their “life space” – or how far and how often they travel outside of their home for daily activities. As it turns out, hearing loss may have a bigger impact on where and how far we travel than one may assume. Recent studies conducted at the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Tampere in Finland found that older adults with hearing problems were more than twice as likely to limit their travel and mobility to only local areas than those with normal hearing.
Why does this matter? Research has found that those who limit their mobility to smaller and more local areas are more likely to suffer from lower quality of life, anxiety, social isolation and depression.
What did the studies find?
In one of the studies, 848 men and women between the ages of 75-90 were surveyed and monitored for a period of two years. During this time, it was found that those with hearing issues were more likely to limit their everyday travel and mobility to areas closer to their home than those who did not suffer hearing loss. Hannele Polku, a Doctoral Student who was part of the research team stated, “in our recent studies, we’ve observed that older people with hearing problems have more limited life space, and that these problems lower their quality of life”. http://www.hear-it.org/hearing-problems-may-result-limited-movement-local-areas
Why does this lower quality of life?
Many studies, such as this one conducted in the United Kingdom (http://healthland.time.com/2013/03/26/social-isolation-not-just-feeling-lonely-may-shorten-lives/), have connected social isolation and lack of social contact to depression, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and even increased risk of health issues and death. Bottom line, meaningful social relationships are essential to the health and well being of humans. When we are isolated and limit our “life space” to very small areas, we are more likely to limit our social interactions – and therefore place ourselves at higher risk for these concerning issues.
Do hearing aids help?
A new study published by The National Council on the Aging (NCOA) found that they absolutely do. NCOA surveyed 2,300 hearing impaired adults over 50, including those who used hearing aids as well as those who did not. Also surveyed were 2,090 close family members and friends of the hearing impaired people. When asked about feelings of sadness or depression, 30% of non-hearing aid users reported these feelings, whereby only 22% of hearing aid users reported sadness or depression.
Also, while only 32% of non-users reported regularly participating in social activities, 42% of hearing aid users stated that they regularly participate. Hearing aid users (and their friends and families) also reported better relationships at home, better feelings about one’s self, higher quality of life overall, better relationships with children and grandchildren, improved mental health and higher self-confidence (http://www.audiology.org/publications-resources/document-library/untreated-hearing-loss-linked-depression-social-isolation). This study does not stand-alone. Studies published throughout the world have shined light on the many benefits of hearing aid use on social relationships and mental health.
Has your life space become “smaller” than even a few years ago?
Have you noticed that you are less likely to attend your weekly book club meeting or that you feel relieved when plans with family or friends fall through? Have you noticed you’ve been going to the farmer’s market less often because the grocery store on the corner is just more convenient? Believe it or not, these may be warning signs of an undiagnosed hearing loss.
When hearing becomes strenuous, conversations with others tend to become less enjoyable – if not downright frustrating. Because of this, many people limit their social interactions without actually realizing it. When we spend less time with others and more time at home and by ourselves, hearing loss may become even less noticeable. As Hannele Polku points out, “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”.
If you think you may be experiencing changes in your hearing, contact us at Fidelity Hearing Center to schedule your comprehensive hearing exam.