An invisible disability, hearing loss affects tens of millions of Americans every day, and while missing pieces of conversation, television shows, meetings, lectures and more is all incredibly frustrating, the effects of hearing loss go way beyond simply not being able to hear well. For many people, especially those whose hearing loss is untreated or inadequately treated, hearing loss can have a deleterious effect on mental health that can lead to everything from dementia to depression.
If you’re concerned about your own hearing loss or the hearing loss of someone close to you, consider looking into the available hearing aids and treatments by HearingLife. Hearing well in a world full of stimulating conversations, excellent theater, beautiful music and the morning songs of birds is certainly its own reward, but the darker side of hearing loss deserves examination as well. Here are a handful of ways that hearing loss can negatively affect mental health when it goes untreated for too long.
While it has been known for some time that hearing loss can actually cause atrophying in the auditory processing parts of the brain, untreated hearing loss also increases your risk of dementia to a surprising degree. Some studies have shown that mild hearing loss doubles a person’s risk of developing dementia, while moderate and untreated hearing loss can triple it.
For individuals whose hearing loss is significant, the risk for developing dementia is five times higher than it is for those who hear well. Older adults are already at a higher risk for developing dementia than younger people, which means that taking hearing loss seriously enough to get it treated is an essential form of preventing dementia.
Depression is a surprisingly common mental health disorder that affects over 350 million people worldwide, and in the coming decade, that number is expected to continue to rise. While depression is a very serious illness, it can also be successfully treated — if sufferers receive help. When someone has unaddressed hearing loss their chances for developing depression increase.
According to the National Council on Aging, people who have untreated hearing loss and are over the age of 50 are much more likely to report depression and symptoms of depression, and the degree of the depression is linked to the severity of hearing loss as well.
One of the main contributors to the decline in mental health of individuals suffering from hearing loss is that untreated hearing problems often result in social isolation — a problem older adults are already prone to suffer. Communication between people requires hearing, speech and comprehension; untreated hearing loss can lead to frustration and anger in both the person who can’t hear and those who are trying to communicate with him.
Oftentimes, in an effort to avoid confusion and the time it can take to communicate, people will forego trying to communicate at all. The resulting social isolation leads to a loss of connection with others that can have disastrous effects on self-esteem, mood and a sense of meaning or purpose in the world. These problems can in turn lead to depression, anxiety, fatigue and feelings of worthlessness.
Anxiety — that nagging feeling of concern, unease, worry or nervousness — is another mental health woe that can accompany untreated hearing loss. Both for reasons of misunderstanding what is being said around them and because hearing loss has negative effects on the brain that can influence mood, anxiety can become commonplace for hard-of-hearing individuals.
Interestingly, hearing loss can actually affect your personality when it’s left untreated. Researchers from the University of Gothenburg studied 400 people from between the ages of 80 and 98 across a span of six years. They conducted in-depth analyses of physical and mental traits as well as personality for each person every two years.
What they found was that study participants who had untreated hearing loss became more introverted and less outgoing as a response to the hearing loss. While becoming less outgoing is a common trait among aging adults, impaired hearing that isn’t treated leads to even greater incidences of introversion among an already isolated group of people.
Hearing well is an essential component to experiencing a full and meaningful life, which is why hearing loss can lead to so many mental health problems when it’s left untreated. From keeping depression and dementia at bay to lowering your chances of anxiety and social isolation, everyone should address the problems of impaired hearing as soon as the trouble begins.