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Hearing loss has a number of far-reaching effects on the lives of seniors who live with this condition. Not only does it impede their ability to communicate, but also–as new research shows–it limits their capacity to be mobile and partake in different hobbies and activities. The study, carried out by researchers in Finland, sheds light on this cause-and-effect relationship between hearing impairment and movement, and how this reduced mobility can result in a lower quality of life overall.
Hearing loss and older adults
Hearing loss is among the most prevalent conditions in the United States, especially among older Americans. On average, 1 in 3 people between the ages of 65 and 74 has some level of hearing loss, and almost one half of those over 75 have difficulty hearing. Untreated hearing damage can lead to a wide array of problems, ranging from the frustrating to the dangerous. It can limit one’s social life, make it difficult to understand and respond appropriately to situations, increase the risk of household accidents, and interfere with the enjoyment of daily activities. And now, according to studies carried out by researchers from the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Tampere in Finland, there is another problem to consider: seniors with hearing loss are much more likely to restrict their movement to areas close to their homes.
How does hearing damage affect mobility?
The reduced ability to hear and process sounds may affect one’s ability to move about comfortably out-of-doors, in more ways than one. Think about taking a simple trip to the grocery store or park: there are a number of sounds it may be necessary for you to hear and respond to, in order to carry out your task. Bumping into a friend or acquaintance, crossing a busy street or rounding a corner, hearing the cashier tell you your total–all of these relatively simple situations could pose a challenge for a person with hearing loss. Many seniors suffer additional health-related issues–such as vision impairment or joint pain–that could further impede mobility when combined with hearing damage, leading to an increased risk of falls or accidents. It is no wonder that many seniors with untreated hearing loss decide not to venture far from home.
“[…] we’ve observed that older people with hearing problems have more limited life space, and that these problems lower their quality of life.”Doctoral student Hannele Polku
How does limited mobility affect everyday life?
During the two-year study, which had a total of 848 participants between the ages of 75 and 90, it was observed that people who experienced hearing difficulties moved much less within their local areas than those who considered their hearing to be good. In fact, they were twice as likely to limit their movement to places nearby. What does this mean for elderly citizens? Doctoral student Hannele Polku said, of the study, “[…] we’ve observed that older people with hearing problems have more limited life space, and that these problems lower their quality of life.”
Daily life could be impacted in a number of negative ways by the mobility limitations that result from hearing damage. Social relationships, which are known to help maintain cognitive faculties as well as overall happiness, could suffer as a result of the inability to venture far from home. In addition, a person’s participation in organizations and senior centers, and engagement in meaningful hobbies which provide a sense of value and identity could be limited as a result of reduced mobility. Engaging with real-life activities outside of the home, walking in nature, and exercising–these simple activities are also important for mental and physical health, among many others. Fortunately, most levels of hearing loss can be effectively treated with hearing aids, allowing a more active lifestyle to be restored.
Hearing loss affects everyone differently
A final interesting finding of the Finnish study: people with the same level of hearing loss were not necessarily affected in the same way.
Researcher Polku concludes that: “hearing alone is not a sufficient measure of how people experience their hearing problems and how these affect their everyday lives. For example, a person with many everyday social contacts and communication with others may feel that even a minor hearing loss may affect their everyday functioning. On the other hand, a person more inclined to enjoy domestic tasks carried out on one’s own doesn’t experience the same number of problems due to a change of similar degree in hearing.”
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