Loneliness has typically been thought of like most other human emotions — fleeting and virtually harmless. While short periods of loneliness may not have negative effects, prolonged loneliness is toxic and increases the risk of dying by 26%. In fact, loneliness is as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases the risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
You may be wondering, how can loneliness lead to all of that? Let me break it down for you.
How loneliness affects our health
Like food and water, humans need social connection to thrive and survive. These connections create a sense of belonging and safety. When we’re deprived of these crucial relationships, because of social distancing, hearing loss or a number of other reasons, our sympathetic nervous system perceives a safety threat and starts to fire. It’s a completely reflexive reaction.
In response, the body begins making hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenalin), preparing to fight or flee. Over time, the persistent exposure to excess cortisol can wreak havoc on our health. A heightened heart rate and blood pressure increase the risk of heart disease; increased blood clotting factors increase the risk of stroke; higher levels of glucose increase the risk of diabetes; and not having an immune system that’s functioning properly increases our risk for cancer.
You get the point. Prolonged loneliness is not good for your health.
Unfortunately, many risk factors for loneliness are difficult or impossible to change or reverse including being older, being female, living in a rural area, having a low education level, or having poor health status.
Hearing loss is a treatable cause of loneliness
The good news is that a treatable cause of loneliness is hearing loss. And it makes sense. When hearing is a challenge, so is communicating and maintaining relationships with friends, family and caregivers. To avoid the social strain and discomfort of being unable to hear, many people withdraw from conversations and eventually retreat into a shell. In fact, one in five people with hearing loss report feeling lonely.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Thanks to industry-first technologies, our hearing aids deliver superior sound, body and brain tracking, and a built-in personal assistant. They are designed to be inconspicuous, fitting in or behind the ear and reconnecting you to the world around you.
The science is becoming clearer every day: it is time to put hearing health at the forefront of overall wellness because it matters, and its effects are far-reaching.