Losing your hearing may seem like a natural, unavoidable health concern as you age.
To a degree, that’s true. Some hearing is naturally lost as we get older.
However, even age-related hearing loss can cause a person to feel isolated and unable to communicate with others.
If hearing loss is sudden, or a person experiences a severe or profound hearing loss earlier in life, the chance of developing mental health issues is much higher.
One study revealed that over 10 percent of people who have even a little trouble hearing find themselves feeling depressed or experiencing recurrent feelings of sadness.
Let’s explore the link between hearing loss and mental health.
We’ll attempt to understand how hearing impacts our ability to make meaningful connections with others and how those connections are important for our cognitive function.
First, let’s explore a little more information about hearing loss.
What Is Hearing Loss?
Experiencing hearing loss means you have lost some or all of your ability to hear in one or both of your ears.
There are varying degrees of hearing loss measured by the decibels you can no longer hear.
Sound is measured in decibels. An audiogram is a test administered by an audiologist that shows which decibels you can no longer hear.
The decibels you can no longer hear tell the audiologist your degree of hearing loss.
Degrees of Hearing Loss
Normal hearing is hearing sounds that fall between -10 and 15 decibels.
Hearing specialists have developed this guide to measure hearing loss based on that ability.
- Slight. 16-25 decibels
- Mild. 26-40 decibels
- Moderate. 41-55 decibels
- Moderately Severe. 56-70 decibels
- Severe. 71-90 decibels
- Profound. 91+ decibels
Thus, if you can only hear sounds that are 20+ db, you have a slight hearing loss.
If you are only able to hear sounds that are 60+ decibels, you have a moderately severe hearing loss.
Hearing Loss’s Impact on Mental Health
Communication with others, the ability to hear sounds like music and birds chirping, and the awareness of important sounds around you are vital to a healthy life.
When you can no longer hear conversations as clearly or understand what someone is saying if there is background noise, your quality of life can naturally decline, especially if you do not seek treatment for your hearing loss.
This decline often goes hand-in-hand with feelings of sadness, anger, irritability, and depression.
When a person experiences hearing loss, they may also begin to experience both mental health and cognitive decline.
It can be hard to keep up with any conversation, especially if you are in a large, noisy room or are attempting to engage in conversation within a group.
This challenge is exacerbated when you lose your ability to hear as well as you once did.
As such, people with hearing loss may naturally begin to avoid social situations where they know they wouldn’t be able to engage in conversation very well.
Fear of not keeping up with conversation or missing something important can lead to feelings of paranoia.
In the end, it is easier for the person to stay home instead of going out, or avoid conversations instead of having them.
Because social isolation can also lead to depression, it’s natural to see how becoming isolated can segue into feelings of loneliness, sadness, and depression. Keeping connected is important, especially as we age.
Elderly populations are more at risk of becoming depressed due to fewer opportunities to engage socially, self-imposed isolation due to health risks or concerns, and loss of loved ones.
Hearing loss can cause an otherwise functioning and sharp older adult to experience feelings of depression because the symptoms of their hearing loss may seem simply like symptoms of old age.
For instance, symptoms of hearing loss can include:
- Inability to follow a conversation
- Asking people to repeat themselves
- Missing large portions of what someone else is saying
For someone who does not understand hearing loss or doesn’t know about a person’s hearing loss, these symptoms may look like losing one’s edge or sharpness.
When a person with hearing loss is judged in this manner, it can lead to depression, anger, and paranoia.
Cognitive Decline and Dementia
Because remaining socially active is important for our continued cognitive development, anything that interferes with it may cause some cognitive decline.
Hearing impairment, because it can cause someone to become socially isolated, is therefore associated with cognitive decline.
Instead of isolating oneself, getting help and finding auxiliary methods of communication can dramatically improve a person’s quality of life and help them continue living the life they love.
Treatments for Hearing Loss and Mental Health
Talking to your healthcare provider is important if you are experiencing hearing loss at any age.
They can direct you to an audiologist who will test your hearing and help you make important decisions about your treatment options.
In addition, if you are experiencing feelings of loneliness, sadness, despair, isolation, stress, anger, or hopelessness, seeking the assistance of a licensed therapist or psychiatrist can help.
When you’re ready to correct your hearing loss and use the tools that new technology has afforded us, you’ll find no shortage of options.
No longer large, bulky, and difficult to adjust, many types of hearing aids are very low profile and one of the best ways to correct hearing loss.
Hearing aids that are “miniature” sit behind and inside the ear and are barely visible to anyone else.
The advancement of digital hearing aids means that you are no longer required to adjust them to the noise level of the room you are entering.
Digital hearing aids self-adjust, so the decibels of sound stays the same whether you’re at a library or a rock concert.
One of the most exciting advancements in hearing technology is cochlear implant development.
These implants offer the ability to hear to people who have severe to profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants are surgically placed and bypass the structures of the inner ear that are damaged.
The implants change sound waves to electrical signals delivered directly to the auditory nerve.
The auditory nerve then sends the signals to the brain to be interpreted as sound.
Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)
Assistive listening devices may be a solution for mild to moderate hearing loss.
Commonly used in auditoriums, theaters, and places of worship, these devices help amplify the speaker's sound through over-the-ear headphones or in-the-ear earbuds.
Especially useful for people with high-frequency hearing loss, lip reading involves recognizing the mouth movements that correlate to the sound a person is making.
For someone with high-frequency hearing loss, the sounds F, S, and H are often impossible to detect.
By focusing on a person’s mouth when they speak, a person with a high-frequency hearing loss can regain the ability to communicate.
Healthy Hearing, Healthy Mind
If you think you are suffering from hearing loss, don’t wait — see your primary care doctor immediately.
There are numerous treatment options for hearing loss to help you regain your ability to hear.
The longer you are without hearing, the higher your risk of developing hearing-related mental illness.
For more information, check out the USA Rx blog. There, you’ll find articles about hearing loss, treatment options that may be right for you, and tips for preserving your hearing and protecting your mental health.
References, Studies and Sources:
Degree of Hearing Loss | ASHA.org
Hearing loss may be linked to mental decline | Harvard Health
Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults | JAMA Network.com
Hearing Impairment Associated With Depression in US Adults, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2010 | Depressive Disorders | JAMA Otolaryngology
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