A growing body of research indicates that people with untreated hearing loss may be at an increased risk of depression. Studies also show that when these individuals use hearing aids, they experience significant improvements in quality of life and decreased depressive symptoms; have significantly higher self-concepts compared to individuals with hearing loss who do not wear hearing aids; and experience significant improvement in their functional health status.
“When left unaddressed, hearing loss can lead to isolation and other emotional conditions that can affect both quality of life and mental health,” says Sergei Kochkin, PhD. “The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) therefore is encouraging people to take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing test at www.hearingcheck.org to determine if they need a comprehensive hearing check by a hearing professional.”
Depression is a serious, common, and complex illness that affects an estimated 121 million people worldwide, according to World Federation for Mental Health. In the United States along, major depression affects 15 million American adults, or approximately 5 to 8 percent of the adult population in a given year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports. What’s more, depression frequently co-occurs with a variety of other physical illnesses.
The link between unaddressed hearing loss and depression is compelling. For example, a large-scale study by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) found that people 50 and older with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, anger and frustration, emotional instability and paranoia, and were less likely to participate in organized social activities that those who wore hearing aids. The degree of depression and other emotional or mental health issues also increased with the severity of hearing loss.
An Italian study, published in Acto Otorhinolarynogologica Italica, involved working adults aged 35 to 55 who were affected by mild to moderate hearing loss in both ears. In this study, those with hearing loss reported higher levels of disability and psychological distress – and the lower levels of social functioning – than a well-matched normal control population. The hearing-impaired individuals experienced reduced ordinary social activities, increased relational problems with family and friends, and greater emotional difficulties at work. They also showed high levels of anxiety, depression, phobic anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity, and hostility.
Another survey, released by Australian Hearing, also found that people who suffer from hearing loss may be at increased risk of developing the debilitating effects of depression. The survey found that 60 percent of those with hearing loss had displayed symptoms associated with depression. And almost 20 percent demonstrated at least three key symptoms of depression. Specifically, 52 percent had displayed increased irritability and frustration; 22 percent had trouble sleeping or experienced restlessness; and 18 percent showed a loss of interest or pleasure in most activities.
The good news is that research also indicates the hearing aids can help. A study published by the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics examined the effects of hearing aids on cognitive function and depressive signs in people 65 and older. Researchers found that after three months of using a hearing aid, all patients showed significant improvement in their psychological and cognitive conditions.
What’s more, in a recently published study, BHI examined the impact of hearing aids on specific quality of life factors that affect mental and emotional well-being. More than half of the 1,800 hearing aid owners surveyed said they attributed their use of hearing aids to improvements in their relationships at home, their ability to join in groups, and their social life. Close to half said they saw improvements in their self confidence, sense of safety, feelings about themselves, and sense of independence, while one third indicated their mental and emotional life improved.
“By raising awareness of the connection between untreated hearing loss and depression, we hope to make a difference in people’s lives and to mobilize individuals to address their hearing loss” says Kochkin.