Comorbidities is an intimidating-sounding term that is used to indicate when a health condition has other health concerns that often manifest alongside it. A testament to how all the systems in the body are connected, the frequency of comorbidities is often an indicator of cause and effect relationships in one’s health.
Hearing loss can seem like such a singular health concern it can be hard to understand that, like many other chronic health conditions, it too may be present alongside a number of other comorbidities. Some comorbidities of hearing loss, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, may have a role to play in hearing impairment. Others, such as falling accidents, depression and dementia may be provoked by the presence of hearing loss left unresolved.
When you receive a hearing loss diagnosis, it is also important to be aware of potential comorbidities and take them into consideration when treating hearing problems. Let’s take a look at some of the most common comorbidities of hearing loss.
The presence of untreated hearing loss often works in opposition to our social wellbeing and quality of life. A prime example of this is the relationship between untreated hearing loss and depression. Serious depression often stems from a sense of feeling disconnected and alienated from the world. By making conversation and communication harder to engage in, hearing loss can lead to frustration and misunderstanding, even when talking to our closest friends and family. This breakdown in communication can limit our social behavior and lead towards a state of depression.
Just as unaddressed hearing issues make it more challenging to connect with the people we care about, it can also cause the activities and events we once participated in to seem less desirable. Noisy and complex spaces like parties, travel hubs, busy restaurants or even work or school can be especially hard to navigate and engage in when you live with untreated hearing loss. Rather than be enjoyable, these spaces often become confusing and stressful. These dynamics are what contribute to the relationship between untreated hearing loss and social anxiety.
Isolation and Loneliness
A further comorbidity of untreated hearing loss is social isolation which also curtails our quality of life. As detailed above, untreated hearing loss can drive a wedge between ourselves and the things we love. A sense of alienation from others and a lack of enjoyment in social engagement can pave the path for isolation and restricted mobility as the person with unaddressed hearing problems withdraws from uncomfortable and difficult situations and relationships.
Untreated hearing loss also takes a toll on our cognitive performance, with some very serious comorbidities resulting. One health issue that is often unexpected is injuries through falling and other physical accidents. The raised likelihood of accidental injury is based on the extra effort that is required to process incoming sound and speech when hearing loss is present. Instead of smoothly discerning the meaning of incoming sounds, our mind has to puzzle through incomplete information and to do this as fast as possible, the brain pulls attention away from other cognitive tasks. When focus is distracted from our sense of balance and coordination, falls and accidents become far more likely as we misestimate special relationships and obstacles in our path.
Consequences like falling accidents show the immediate cognitive comorbidities of hearing loss, while others are caused by the long term effects of these cognitive changes. Profound cognitive decline, known as dementia, is just such a grave comorbidity that may be distinctly provoked by chronic cognitive stress caused by hearing loss. Over time, constantly having to redirect mental energy towards compensating for hearing loss can make it difficult to perform adequately at everyday problem solving and other mental tasks. This dulling of our mental acuity and chronic cognitive strain are thought to be key contributing factors in catalyzing dementia.
Treating Hearing Loss and Comorbidities
It can be daunting to consider the comorbidities of hearing loss, but there is a silver lining. While untreated hearing loss may put you at higher risk for other chronic health conditions, treating hearing loss can help lessen the odds. Using hearing aids, for example, has been shown to improve a person’s quality of life and lessen cognitive strain and increase mental performance abilities.