While losing both your hearing and your vision may seem like an extreme possibility, it’s more likely to happen than you think: as the U.S. population ages, it is estimated that by 2030, as many as 14 million people will experience dual sensory loss (DSL).
As if these numbers weren’t disturbing enough, studies show another statistic that makes them especially frightening: older adults with dual sensory loss can lose 10 years of their potential lifespan as opposed to patients who maintain both their vision and their hearing.
At Hearing Unlimited, we want our patients to realize the importance of preventing both hearing and vision loss. Here are four of the most common ways dual sensory loss can result in such a drastic change in quality and length of life:
1. Difficulty Performing Daily Tasks
Both sight impairment and hearing impairment can have a significant effect on the way you or your loved one performs daily tasks. However, the impact drastically increases when both senses are impaired in a case of dual sensory loss. The daily functions that become difficult or impossible due to DSL do include physical tasks like driving and maintaining balance. However, they also include higher-function tasks such as managing money and using the telephone. This reduced functionality not only makes an individual more vulnerable to injury, but also impedes their independence, contributing to a sense of isolation and mental disuse.
2. Challenges With Interactive Communication
DSL can also make it difficult for older adults to communicate on an everyday basis. Age-related hearing loss has a number of effects on oral communication - the speech of others may sound slurred, “th” and “s” sounds become hard to decipher, and some individuals may even experience bouts of tinnitus that become uncomfortable and distracting during conversations. With an additional vision impairment, coping strategies such as lip-reading and body language interpretation become unavailable, and written communication skills are also affected.
3. Social Isolation and Mental Health Struggles
When daily functionality and communicating with the world around you becomes a struggle due to DSL, it can become frustrating and exhausting to interact with others, increasing the temptation to give up on maintaining a social life entirely. The team at Hearing Unlimited cannot stress the negative effects of social isolation on both mental and physical health enough. Along with an increased risk of anxiety and depression, isolation can spell the beginning of a vicious cycle of mental decline that includes even further sensory loss, and an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. As audiologists, we’ve written extensively on the correlation between hearing loss and dementia, and we’re happy to serve as a resource if you’d like to hear more on this topic.
4. Higher Risk of Falls and Hospitalization
Perhaps the most dangerous risk to older adults resulting from dual sensory loss is an increased risk of physical injury due to a fall. Nearly 85% of all cases of vertigo and other balance problems in aging patients are a result of an inner ear issue, detracting from their ability to safely stand and walk. Hearing loss and vision loss both reduce a person’s capacity for paying attention to their surroundings, making spatial orientation and hazard avoidance extremely difficult. These heightened risks of falling are extremely frightening when one accounts for the most troubling statistic of all: nearly 9,500 deaths in older Americans are associated with a fall every single year.
The risks and results associated with dual sensory loss are serious, and they are frightening. But remember - neither hearing loss nor vision loss is a natural result of aging, and together with your audiologist and ophthalmologist, you are not helpless in preventing the onset of dual sensory loss. Next month, we’ll discuss the ways in which you can help maintain the health of your mind, ears and eyes.
As we age and become vulnerable to hearing loss, regular hearing tests become an essential part of a proper medical regimen. The audiologists at Hearing Unlimited have been helping people throughout Southwest Pennsylvania prevent hearing loss since 1949. Don’t wait - contact us online or by phone today to schedule an appointment with us, and be sure to take advantage of our services and resources!