I think we've all heard (pun intended) that as individuals age, the hearing or auditory system starts to deteriorate. In fact, statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders [NIDCD], 2021, indicate that 25% of adults between the ages of 65-74 and 50% of people over age 75 have a disabling hearing loss. Although hearing loss can contribute to reduced understanding and engagement, it sometimes can be the catalyst for further decline and loss.
An individual with even a mild hearing loss has a faster rate of cognitive decline or the likelihood to develop dementia. Dementia, although often used as a diagnosis, is actually a group of symptoms that impact cognitive-communication ability and function. Dementia symptoms may make remembering, attending, thinking clearly, making decisions, or even controlling emotions more difficult. When individual experiences a reduced ability to hear, they may begin to withdraw from situations once found enjoyable due to low-self esteem or "difficult keeping up." Their subsequent risk for social isolation, depression, and possible cognitive-communication decline becomes elevated.
Untreated hearing loss can lead to a variety of cognitive-communication difficulties, such as reduced auditory comprehension, reduced ability to respond to questions, and reduced physical safety. Between 25-30% of individuals who are identified as having unsteady gait (difficulty walking or dangerous walking patterns) and 30-35% of individuals who have suffered a fall have been identified as having hearing loss (Vassallo et al, 2004).
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can play a key role in early identification and generating support for individuals suffering from hearing loss changes. SLPs can complete and/or recommend hearing screens, make referrals to audiologists, or communicate with the individual's primary care team to advocate for further testing. Individuals who already have hearing aids should be encouraged to be regularly screened and that hearing aid repair and maintenance are regular and ongoing. Individuals who do not have hearing aids or cannot afford them can consider cheaper alternatives for short-term use, such as voice and environmental amplifiers. As with most things, early identification of changes in hearing can lead to evaluation and identification of necessary equipment in order to improve function, engagement and to reduce related safety and/or cognitive-communication changes.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders [NIDCD]. (updated March 25, 2021). Quick statistics. Retrieved from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing
Vassallo, M., Vignaraja, R., Sharma, J. C., Briggs, R., & Allen, S. C. (2004). Predictors for falls among hospital inpatients with impaired mobility. JRSM, 97(6), 266-269. doi:10.1258/jrsm.97.6.266