As our loved ones get older, more attention has to be given to specific aspects of their health. In particular, it’s important to monitor their hearing, as their ability to hear can affect their lives on a very large scale. For instance, did you know that research has found a link between hearing loss and depression?
What Do Researchers Say?
There are several different studies that have found a strong connection between hearing loss in older adults and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. In 2009, one study found that a person under 70 has a risk of developing depression that increases by 5%(opens in a new tab) with every incremental drop in hearing ability. Similarly, the risk for developing severe loneliness increases 7% with every incremental drop in hearing ability. In other words, as a person loses their ability to hear, they become more and more likely to develop issues with their mental health.
Unfortunately, issues with mental health are not uncommon amongst older adults with hearing loss. In 2019, a study found that about 1 in 5 older adults with hearing loss also have symptoms of clinical depression.
How Are Hearing Loss and Mental Health Connected?
Hearing loss can cause issues with a person’s mental health because of how it affects a person’s ability to communicate. Properly understanding those around us is crucial to good communication, and when a person’s ability to hear is damaged, their ability to understand others is also damaged. This new difficulty with communication can cause some with hearing loss to feel isolated, leading to depression and anxiety.
This can happen over time in a few different ways. Someone who has to frequently ask others to repeat themselves may become embarrassed or frustrated by their difficulty understanding, causing them to stop asking for clarification. Those with hearing loss may also find it difficult to follow natural shifts in conversation—notice, next time you’re talking with a group, how quickly the topic shifts, like from your weekend plans to what was on TV last night. Some may also experience paranoia or anxiety as a result of their hearing loss, thinking that others may be talking about them.
These communication issues can cause individuals to feel isolated, either because of their difficulty following conversations or because they have removed themselves from conversations entirely. This lack of communication can lead to sorrow and isolation, which in turn can cause depression or anxiety.
What Are Signs to Look For?
To help mitigate this issue, it’s important to watch out for symptoms of hearing loss, depression, and anxiety.
Age-related hearing loss occurs gradually and can be hard to spot at first, both for the person losing their hearing and for those around them. Because of this, it’s important to be familiar with and look for symptoms like:
- A ringing in the ear, or tinnitus
- Trouble hearing in noisy areas
- Turning the TV or radio up too loudly
- Asking others to repeat themselves often
Depression and anxiety also tend to develop gradually, and symptoms vary from person to person. If a loved one is struggling with their mental health, you may notice that they are not interested in daily activities or hobbies (including social activities), that they’ve lost or gained a significant amount of weight, that their sleep patterns have changed, or that they’re more irritable or fatigued than is normal.
What Can be Done?
If your loved one has been previously diagnosed with hearing loss and is showing signs of depression or anxiety, or if your loved one is showing signs of losing their hearing, the first step is to talk to them about it. This conversation may not be easy, but it’s important to know how they’re doing and feeling, and moreover, to let them know that there is help available, from you and their audiologist. Treating their hearing loss can improve their quality of life; if their depression is caused by hearing loss, often times treating the hearing loss can help treat the depression, as well.
If you or a loved one is suffering from hearing loss, or mental health issues connected to hearing loss, our audiologists at Hearing Unlimited are ready to help. The professionals at our hearing loss centers can help with hearing assessments, hearing aids, and other useful tools. Request an appointment online today, or call (412)-347-5550 to schedule over the phone.