The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Mental Health
Hearing loss and psychiatric disorders frequently co-exist. (1) Hearing and speech are essential for us to communicate with others through language. Communication helps us build fulfilling relationships and enjoy satisfactory life experiences. Someone who cannot participate in conversations in a social group because they cannot hear others soon starts feeling isolated. Gradually isolation leads to loneliness, which ultimately results in depression. So, hearing loss and psychiatric disorders somehow are frequently co-existent. Though not everyone with hearing loss suffers from depression or other psychiatric disorders, the risk is higher among people who experience hearing loss. Apart from depression, people with hearing loss might also suffer from other psychiatric disorders like dementia (cognitive impairment), anxiety disorder, and psychoses.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. health officials were worried about a loneliness epidemic. It has been estimated that by 2050, 2.5 billion individuals will have some level of hearing loss and this loneliness epidemic will turn extremely bad if we do not act. (2)
Ways in Which Hearing Loss Impacts Mental Health
Sometimes losing the ability to hear could represent a significant loss and followed by a grieving period. The grieving process could involve feelings like anger, sadness, resentment, and depression. This can also contribute to several mental health problems like:
People with hearing loss usually experience more anxiety. You might worry about being judged in social situations or worry about how quickly your level of hearing loss will worsen or whether your treatments can get back your hearing. All these worries would lead to anxiety.
Another way in which hearing loss impacts mental health is that it could lead to a higher risk of developing depression. You might experience suicidal thoughts at some point in time if you have been experiencing hearing loss for quite a long and wrestling with feelings of anxiety and isolation. Hearing loss can also make you dependent on others, which can negatively impact your sense of self-worth. This can again cause more depressive symptoms.
Cognitive Decline and Dementia
Hearing loss can speed up cognitive decline in elderly individuals, increasing the risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Below are some theories that might explain the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline.
- Loss of hearing will keep you away from being social and this isolation can speed up cognitive decline.
- When you have hearing loss, your brain has to work harder to interpret the world, and this reduces its ability to perform other tasks.
- Since they receive and interpret fewer signals, part of the brain might shrink when there is hearing loss.
People with hearing loss or impaired hearing experience auditory hallucinations, such as voices and music. This could be because of disruptions to the way the brain recalls and perceives information.
Psychosis is a condition that includes symptoms like hallucinations and delusions. Hearing loss can be one of the risk factors for psychosis.
You might experience sleep issues if you have impaired hearing. When you experience lower sleep quality, you would be at risk of other conditions, such as depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Strategies to Cope With Hearing Loss and Mental Disorders
Following are some of the strategies to cope with hearing loss and mental disorders.
Visit a Healthcare Professional
When have hearing loss, you should first visit a healthcare professional who will examine you and refer you to an audiologist or occupational therapist for further evaluation and treatments. Hearing loss can be treated and managed effectively in several ways, such as hearing aids, surgery, auditory training, medication, and assistive listening devices. Based on the type of hearing loss you have, the specialist will recommend you for the appropriate treatment option.
A study from 2020 published by The Journal of the American Medical Association discovers that using hearing aids reduced the risk of psychological distress occurring due to hearing loss. (3) Regaining hearing ability can help reduce mental health problems occurring due to hearing loss and restore your quality of life.
See a Therapist and Have a Proper Mental Health Counseling
Consider visiting an experienced therapist and going for proper mental health counseling. The therapist can help you in navigating the grieving process and developing healthy coping skills and strategies. It will help you have a better quality of life.
Be With Your Support Group and Be More Aware
One of the most important things that people with hearing loss and related mental health disorders experience is having support. You can look for organizations that are dedicated to advancing hearing loss education and be more aware of the condition and also know about various resources on hearing loss prevention and treatments. One such organization is the Hearing Loss Association of America, which is great for hearing loss education and awareness. You can also connect to various online communities and in-person support groups in your area through their website. (4)
Hearing loss can bring you a range of difficult emotions and cause various mental health conditions. So, it is clear that hearing loss and mental health are connected by some means. Someone having hearing loss will remain isolated and stay away from social gatherings, which in turn, can impact your mental health. If you or your loved ones are dealing with hearing loss or mental disorders due to it, do not delay seeing a therapist.