05/05/2014 11:07 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2015

The Link Between Hearing Loss And This Health Issue Will Surprise You

Staying socially active and engaged with friends and family is important as people age, and hearing well is crucial to making that happen. New research from Johns Hopkins shows that hearing loss is associated not only with a range of physical problems, but also mental health problems such as social isolation and even dementia.

That important connection warrants greater attention during May, which is both Better Hearing and Mental Health Awareness Months. When a person cannot hear well, activities they used to enjoy - meals with friends, social events and worship services - become challenges. People can then become frustrated, skip social opportunities and potentially become socially isolated, which increases the risk of mental health issues. By contrast, people who seek treatment for hearing loss report significant improvements in relationships, self‐esteem, overall quality of life, mental health and safety.

People wait an average of 10 years after initial diagnosis before getting fitted for a hearing aid, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). That often means people may miss out on important life events with friends and family as their hearing worsens.

Hearing is similar to a muscle; if you don't use it, you could lose it. When hearing loss is left untreated, the nerves that carry sound from the ear to the brain can atrophy. The longer this occurs, the harder it is for people to understand speech, and treatment can becomes less effective.

Here are some tips for better hearing health:

  • Talk to your doctor and schedule a hearing test - Common signs of hearing loss include turning up the volume on the TV or radio to levels that others find too loud, having trouble hearing people on the phone, and difficulty following conversations in noisy environments. People should consider getting their hearing tested once every two years after 50, or if they notice these signs of hearing loss.
  • Limit exposure to loud noises - People should limit their exposure to loud sounds, such as music, lawn mowers or motorcycles, to no more than 20 minutes at a time. When attending concerts or sporting events, consider wearing hearing protection such as ear plugs. Studies have shown that consistent exposure to loud sounds above 100 decibels, as compared to a normal conversation of 60 decibels, can permanently affect hearing, according to ASHA.
  • Use effective communication strategies - People with hearing loss should use effective communication strategies and choose settings that are "hearing friendly." For example, people with hearing loss should opt for restaurants that are relatively quiet and go at times that are less busy. Some websites, including, have published decibel levels for various restaurants using a smart phone app. Another strategy is to select a table along a wall or in a corner, which will reduce background noise. During conversations, watch lip movements, facial expressions and body language, all of which give important information about the speaker's message.
  • Engage with family and friends - Hearing loss affects individuals, their families and their friends. It is important to discuss hearing loss together, providing support and encouragement for people experiencing hearing loss. When speaking with someone with hearing loss, make sure you face them and avoid covering your mouth while speaking. Also, it is important to avoid speaking too quickly.

For the 48 million Americans with hearing loss, now is the ideal time for treatment. For others, following the above tips can people can maintain their hearing health and help those with hearing loss live fuller, healthier lives.
For more information about hearing loss, visit