We all know that hearing loss is bad news for your ears, but did you know that it could affect your mental health? That’s according to a recent study which has found that untreated hearing loss is connected to with a diverse set of medical conditions unconnected to the ear, nose and throat. The most common conditions found are dementia, depression and an increased risk of falls. The American research was led by Jennifer A. Deal, PhD, from the Department of Epidemiology and the Cochlear Centre for Hearing and Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. It was published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. Deal’s team of researchers analysed insurance claims data from around 200,000 adults. Insurance claimants were aged 50 years or older and claimed for hearing loss at least twice in successive years, but still were not wearing hearing aids. In other words, they were living with untreated hearing loss. Researchers analysed their susceptibility to a multitude of conditions within a 16-year time period.
The researchers found that claimants in this group were most at risk of dementia above all other ailments. But why would hearing loss lead to dementia? There have been a number of studies which suggest that people with hearing loss are more likely to retreat from the world, leading to social isolation which can have a negative impact on cognitive, physical and mental health. Plus, the work of decoding sounds can increase cognitive load, which strains cognitive functioning and can impair short term memory. This is one of the early warning signs of dementia. Hearing aids can help those with hearing loss be more social by providing features that help the user understand conversations in noisy environments. This gives users more confidence to meet their friends in their favourite social settings such as cafes and restaurants.
The second highest risk Deal found was for depression. It stands to reason that depression and hearing loss go hand-in-hand. People with hearing loss usually find communication difficult, and this can lead to stress, fatigue and social isolation. And social isolation leads to depression, especially in older adults. Another study supports these claims. A study from The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) in the United States found that over 11 percent of those with hearing loss also had depression, as opposed to only 5 percent in the general population. We can therefore say that those with hearing loss were more than twice as likely to have clinical depression than those with regular hearing. “We found a significant association between hearing impairment and moderate to severe depression," said Dr Chuan-Ming Li, the author of the study. In a separate piece of research, people who used hearing aids showed a marked improvement in their quality of life. A survey by MarkeTrak 9 in 2014 found that 88% of said that their hearing aids improved their quality of life either regularly or occasionally. The highest benefit occurred in three particular areas: users' social lives, taking part in group activities, and family relationships. Hearing impaired people with hearing aids have more self-confidence, a better self-image and communicate much better with others, which results in higher self-esteem than they would have with untreated hearing loss. Under these conditions, depression will find it harder to take root.
The third most common condition that Deal and her researchers found was an increased risk of falls. This is consistent with the research of Dr. Frank Lin from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who found that even a mild degree of hearing loss increased the risk of an accidental fall threefold. How does hearing loss increase the risk of falling? Researchers speculate that the condition leads to a reduced spatial awareness around the individual, putting them at higher risk of an accident. Others point out to hearing loss having a detrimental effect on balance, as those with hearing loss use more of their cognitive resources to understand words and sounds around them, leaving fewer resources left over to work towards the maintenance of balance.
If you have noticed any irregularities with your hearing, a thorough exam is the first step towards answers. At House of Hearing, you can expect professional treatment and caring, expert advice on how best to treat your hearing loss and preserve your overall health, now and in the future. Make your appointment today.