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Why Identifying Unrecognized Hearing Loss Is So Important

Over 48 million Americans have hearing loss, with estimates of global numbers set to reach in the hundreds of millions in just a few short decades. Though hearing loss is an extremely prevalent condition, it often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Despite the high prevalence of age-related hearing loss, many adults still have hearing loss that never gets recognized, or they choose to forgo treatment options altogether. Older populations may miss the subtle changes in their hearing as they age because the onset is often gradual and slow, or possibly, they do not recognize the subtle changes they are making to compensate for their impaired hearing, such as increasing the volume on television sets or audio devices. To understand how some patients can have hearing loss without even realizing it, a study conducted by Wayne State University observed two groups of adults with and without hearing loss, had given them hearing screenings and had concluded with astounding results.

The Risks of Unrecognized Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can present serious risks for patients who do not seek treatment. Unfortunately, many struggling with hearing loss can wait up to 15 years to finally seek help. Research has shown a clear correlation between hearing loss and serious health complications such as depression, anxiety, a higher risk of suicide, and developing dementia. Communication difficulties are also common, as hearing loss causes higher rates of social isolation and a diminished quality of life. However, a majority of hearing aid users report satisfaction with their device, expressing a better quality of life while protecting their hearing for the long term.
Hearing loss is far more dangerous when unrecognized or undiagnosed. Early identification and intervention are critical for positive long-term outcomes when treating hearing loss. According to a 2012 study by Barbara Hutchinson of North Dakota State University, “In fact, adults who delay treatment until their hearing loss is severe do not respond to interventions as well as those who initiate interventions early in the course of their hearing loss.”

Wayne State University’s Conclusions and Recommendations

Self-defined as aiming “to explore characteristics that differentiate adults with unrecognized hearing loss from those with recognized hearing loss and adults with normal hearing”, researchers could determine how likely it was that a participant who described themselves as having no hearing issues, actually had unrecognized hearing loss. As part of the study, participants would complete a subjective and objective assessment of their physical health, various measures of cognition, and personality assessment of their traits for positive and negative affectivity (emotionality).
The results had proven researchers worry about unrecognized hearing loss to be true. “Participants who volunteered for the normal hearing group underwent hearing screens using a portable audiometer as part of the research study. Of the 69 adults who volunteered for that group, our hearing screens indicated that only 39 had hearing in the normal range. Unrecognized hearing loss was identified in 30 volunteers who had described themselves as having no hearing difficulty.”
The study’s research team had concluded that there is a sizeable subset of patients “who are likely to deny hearing difficulty upon questioning but have meaningful hearing loss.”, going as far as to recommend that new research should explore the best practices in psychoeducation about hearing screening that targets patients who do not endorse hearing loss.
If you believe you are suffering from signs of hearing loss but are not completely sure, it’s time to speak to a hearing health professional for a hearing evaluation. Unrecognized hearing loss should not go untreated.