Karen Finch, managing director of The Hearing Care Centre, highlights how hearing loss can be a big factor in loneliness.
Hearing loss can lead to loneliness
Hearing loss affects people in many ways and most of them are obvious and well known. Inability to hear the TV, radio or listen to music without turning up the speaker or having difficulty hearing what others say in noisy environments, are two frequently quoted examples. And difficulty communicating with partners, friends and relatives can often lead to unpleasant tensions.
But imagine what it must be like for someone who lives on their own who experiences hearing loss, with their ability to communicate even with neighbours seriously reduced. They can suffer from acute loneliness, a phenomenon researchers say can be a serious health issue.
This is a major problem in Britain, regarded as the loneliness capital of Europe with its inhabitants less likely overall to know their neighbours or have strong friendships than people anywhere else in the EU.
The Local Government Association which represents town halls across the country, even says loneliness should be treated as a ‘major health issue’.
Recent research in the United States into the effects of loneliness and social isolation affecting four million people revealed a 50% increased risk of early death compared with people who had the good social connections possible for those with good hearing or corrected hearing loss. Astonishingly this compared with only a 30% chance of early death before the age of 70 caused by obesity.
A recent study by the University of York found that lonely people are around 30% more likely to suffer a stroke or heart disease, two of the leading causes of death in Britain.
Although the American research wasn’t specifically aimed at people with hearing loss, it is already well documented that untreated hearing loss can cause social isolation even among people with a close family and wide circle of friends. This is often because the sufferer withdraws from social contact because they are unable to communicate effectively.
The study’s lead author observes that for some people their workplace is the biggest source of companionship - lost when they retire - yet being connected to others socially is a fundamental human need.
Indeed, some 17% of older people see friends, family or neighbours less than once a week and some 10% may go for a month at a time without seeing loved ones. Millions of older people see their TV as their main source of company.
The Campaign to End Loneliness offers a range of tips to help. They all assume that the person they are trying to help has good hearing and can communicate well, so our top tip is to do something about your hearing loss. And if you know someone with hearing loss urge them to take action too.
The first stage is to make an appointment to have a hearing test, and discuss the issues with an audiologist.
It is worth remembering that as people grow older their hearing deteriorates slowly but surely, even though they may not have noticed. A hearing test will detect any loss and even if hearing aids aren’t prescribed, the audiologist will have a benchmark record of your hearing ability and will be able to monitor your hearing health in the following years.