Could Hearing Loss Kill You?

Have you ever walked out of a loud concert with your ears ringing? It only takes a glance at social media after the latest show to see that Millennials—and occasional cool Gen Xers—love boisterous, rocking concerts. But, at what cost? Excessive noise leads to hearing loss (impairment), and new evidence suggests hearing loss may shorten your life.

Say What?
In a new study published in the Journal of Gerontology, researchers looked at the association of hearing impairment and death in older adults. Nearly 2,000 older adults (at least 70 years old) underwent audio evaluations, and then researchers followed them for eight years. During that period, the researchers found that the odds of dying were 20% higher in participants with hearing impairment compared to those with normal hearing. It’s worth noting that researchers adjusted the results for demographics and cardiovascular risk factors, which means that hearing impairment is an independent risk factor for death.

Come Again? I Didn’t Quite Hear That
Hearing loss is linked to social isolation, depression and even dementia in older adults. It may lead to lower levels of physical activity and even a higher risk for hospitalization. This study adds new information to the story by showing that hearing impairment may lead to higher odds of dying regardless of other risk factors or demographics (different characteristics of a population). Exactly how and why hearing impairment might be linked with death is still unclear, but findings like this may lead to new studies that try to figure it out.

So, What Now?
It would be easy to ignore this until we are old and gray, but it is important to consider what you can do now to protect your ears—and subsequently your mind and your life. The American Hearing Research Foundation states that you should only be exposed to noise intensity of 115 decibels (the approximate level of a loud rock concert) for 15 minutes without protection. And, researchers are unsure whether hearing aids benefit social and cognitive side effects of hearing impairment or if, at that point, the damage is done (pun intended).

Bottom line: Even though earplugs may seem lame, your older self will thank you.

(Feature photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

Nicolette Hoke

Nicolette Hoke is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.