In most cases, hearing loss isn’t a life-threatening condition. Still, there’s growing evidence that it can negatively impact an individual’s health, including their mental health. Researchers at The National Council on Aging surveyed more than 2,000 adults age 50 and over with hearing impairment who did not wear a hearing aid. Not only were mood problems like anxiety and depression more common in those with hearing impairments, these folks were less active and social compared to their peers.
After digging even deeper, researchers found those who didn’t wear hearing aids were more likely to experience feelings of sadness and despair for 2 weeks or more out of the year. This observation isn’t surprising to people who understand hearing loss and the impact it can have on a person’s social life. People who don’t hear well are more likely to avoid social functions and isolate themselves from others for fear of people noticing their hearing problem.
Hearing Loss and Brain Function
Social isolation is strongly linked with depression and more serious health problems, including cognitive impairment and dementia. Being socially isolated and hearing impaired means less brain stimulation and “exercise” – it’s another example of “use it or lose it.”
If you or someone you know is feeling down or is increasingly isolating themselves from other people, a hearing evaluation is in order. Unlike loss of visual perception, hearing loss often goes undetected and unrecognized. It’s an underappreciated cause of depression and mood disorders.
At the very least, hearing problems can worsen pre-existing feelings of sadness. The good news? Research shows treating adults with hearing impairment early on may lower their risk for clinical depression. Fortunately, audiologists are trained to diagnose and treat hearing loss and can offer expert guidance.
- American Academy of Audiology. “Untreated Hearing Loss Linked to Depression, Social Isolation in Seniors”
- Harvard Health Publications. “Hearing loss may be linked to mental decline”
- Hearing Journal. July 2014 – Volume 67 – Issue 7 – p 6. doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000452245.45569.b1