In part two of this “Ask the Expert” series, Amplifon Hearing Health Care audiologist Carrie Meyer, Au.D., answers a question about the connection between hearing loss and mental health.
“Lately, my mom hasn’t been the happy, outgoing person we’ve always known, and she skips activities she used to love. We’ve also noticed that she has trouble hearing. Could there be a connection between her hearing loss and the changes in her personality and behavior?”
Dr. Meyer's Answer:
Yes, there could be a connection between the changes you’ve observed in your mother and her hearing ability. Hearing loss causes people to avoid embarrassment and frustration by withdrawing from activities and social situations when interacting gets too difficult. It’s only natural. Even family gatherings can be a challenge because of trouble following conversations in noisy situations. This can lead to emotional and social loneliness, which is a known risk factor for depression and other mental health conditions.
All of this is backed up by recent studies showing that hearing loss increases a person’s risk for depression, anxiety, paranoia, dementia and other mental conditions.
Hearing loss and depression
The connection between hearing loss and depression is particularly strong, especially among older adults. One study found that adults age 60 and above with some form of hearing loss were 47% more likely than their normal-hearing peers to experience symptoms of depression.1
In addition to social withdrawal, another possible explanation for the hearing loss-depression connection is the fact that older adults with hearing loss often experience mild cognitive decline and have difficulty completing daily activities, negatively impacting their quality of life and increasing their risk of developing depression.
Finally, people with hearing loss often have balance issues, leading to decreased physical activity and ultimately depression. They may also experience tinnitus, commonly called “ringing in the ears.” Severe cases of tinnitus can disrupt a person’s life, contributing to depression.
Hearing loss and dementia
Have you noticed any signs of forgetfulness in your mother? Hearing loss is a known risk factor for dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, older adults with hearing loss may have up to a fivefold higher risk of developing dementia than those with normal hearing.2
Some experts think that the strain of decoding sounds over the years may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving fewer resources available for other functions such as learning and memory. In addition, untreated hearing loss may affect brain structure in a way that contributes to cognitive problems. Normal hearing, on the other hand, enables the brain to process sound more efficiently, increasing cognition and improving memory.
As with depression, hearing loss tends to make people retreat from social situations, and this is a documented risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders.
Could hearing loss treatment help?
Many experts believe that hearing loss treatment may enhance and protect mental health.
One study found that participants who wore hearing aids were less likely to report sadness, depression, worry, anxiety and paranoia than those with untreated hearing loss.3 Hearing loss treatment may protect against dementia, according to another study which found that cognitive decline slowed following hearing aid use.4
In summary, my advice to you is to make sure your mother receives the appropriate care for her mental health. Plus, I urge you and other family members to have a conversation with her about the importance of addressing her hearing loss and getting her back to enjoying the things she loves to do.
If the cost of hearing aids is a concern, you may want to investigate whether she’s covered by a hearing benefit or is eligible for a hearing aid program. In particular, a growing number of Medicare Advantage plans now include a hearing benefit that substantially reduces the cost of hearing aids for their members.
Click here to find out whether your mother’s health insurance includes a hearing aid benefit through Amplifon Hearing Health Care.