More than 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, which makes it one of the most common health conditions in the nation. However, adults typically wait an average of seven years before seeking help for their hearing loss. If left untreated, hearing loss may lead to other conditions such as depression.
According to a study of more than two thousand participants by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), adults older than 50 were more likely to report they have experienced depression and related symptoms including anxiety, anger, frustration, paranoia and emotional instability. This correlation between hearing loss and depression was further corroborated by a study published in the journal Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica completed in Italy that focused on younger patients. Participants were 35 to 54 years old with hearing loss in one or both ears and also reported higher levels of psychological stress including low levels of social functioning.
Since it can be difficult to communicate with untreated hearing loss, people often withdraw from social situations. In fact, those who suffer from hearing loss are less likely to participate in social activities, which leads to isolation and symptoms of depression. Depression can lead to more serious symptoms, and because it affects an estimated one in 12 Americans, it’s important to understand the health risks faced by those with hearing loss and respond effectively.
The answer may be as simple as wearing and using hearing devices. Researchers at the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found that every single patient who wore hearing devices showed solid improvements in psychosocial and cognitive conditions in just three months. Furthermore, a 25-year study published in 2015 in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society found the brain health of people 65 and older who did not wear hearing devices to correct their hearing loss tested at much lower rates than their counterparts who used devices.
Though patients should discuss any hearing difficulties with their primary care physician during checkups, the signs of hearing loss are often noticed first by friends and family. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has established guidelines for determining when an individual should seek a hearing evaluation. Signs to look for include:
- Difficulty understanding speech, especially when background noise is present.
- The individual isolates themselves from social gatherings and public situations.
- They watch television or listen to music at a much louder volume than normal.
- They often ask people to repeat themselves.
Like any condition, the cause should be the primary focus of treatment. For many, using a hearing device will greatly improve their depression symptoms. Because mental health affects so many other facets of an otherwise healthy lifestyle, it’s important to encourage loved ones suffering from depression to seek treatment. Even mild forms of hearing loss can lead to an increased risk of negative emotional experiences. The sooner these are discovered, the better the odds of successful treatment. When you notice them, discuss any signs of hearing loss with a physician and ask for a referral to an audiologist who can complete and in-depth hearing evaluation.