(BPT) - As a private pilot and frequent commercial passenger, John Walkup's hearing worsened over a number of years. But during one memorable airline flight, he suddenly lost most of his hearing, leading to enormous life changes.
The impact of his hearing loss went beyond simply not being able to hear. His career ended abruptly. Walkup went on permanent disability and started looking for a new occupation that did not rely on hearing. Typically outgoing, he withdrew due to difficulty in communicating with others.
Last year, at age 71, Walkup received a cochlear implant, a medical option for people with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. Hearing aids provide limited benefit-for people with hearing loss of this severity. The system includes both an internal cochlear implant and an externally worn audio processor.
Feelings of being trapped by hearing loss and feeling subjectively isolated-are not uncommon, but are often not acknowledged as being associated with hearing loss and hence a threat to our well-being, says-Barbara E. Weinstein, PhD, who has conducted extensive research in-the-psychosocial-impact of hearing-loss in older adults. "Studies have shown that hearing loss-is-associated with negative emotional-outcomes, including social-isolation, reduced functional independence and depression," says Weinstein.
Groundbreaking National Institute of Health-funded research also linked hearing loss to dementia in older adults. These findings have major public health implications for the world's growing aging population in terms of prevention and intervention of dementia, one of the costliest and most-feared illnesses of aging.
"Hearing loss, social isolation, depression and dementia appear to be interconnected," says Weinstein. "These conditions also all have a tremendous burden of illness in terms of hospitalization and long-term care. These findings are a call for increased hearing loss screening in the older adult population and better screening methods."
Researchers are investigating whether or not treating an underlying hearing loss will slow the advancement of dementia. Because shared pathways in the brain might be the reason behind the dementia-hearing loss connection, it is possible that taking measures to improve hearing will also improve other emotional factors which are strongly associated with dementia.