We many not recognize them at first, but early signs of hearing loss may begin to manifest themselves as simple personality quirks in our family members, for example the grandmother who smiles lovingly and nods when she can’t understand small children or the uncle who always talks in an inappropriately loud voice.
Although they may not express it themselves, these little quirks could be taking a mental toll on people with hearing loss. In fact, normal conversations can become a major source of stress and frustration for people who are losing their hearing, potentially causing them to withdraw from normal social situations. Further, if left unchecked hearing loss can even lead to depression, according to a study recently released by the American Medical Association.
The study, published in JAMA Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery, provides evidence of the way hearing loss affects mental health in adults of all ages, not just seniors.
According to the study, researchers evaluated over 18,000 survey responses from the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in an attempt to find the risk factors and prevalence of depression in adults with hearing loss. This is the first study to look specifically at depression in adults with hearing loss using such a wide variety of American adults. Many studies are focused only on seniors or do not account for other influencing factors such as ethnicity, age, and other health issues.
Individuals were scored for depression based on their responses to a short questionnaire and self-reported their hearing ability from “excellent” hearing to “completely deaf.”
The results of this study are easier to understand if they are split into groups, as the individuals over 70 years-old had a professional hearing test in addition to self-reporting their hearing status.
The results from the younger group showed that more than 11% of individuals who reported at least some trouble hearing suffered from moderate to severe depression compared to only 4.9% for those with excellent hearing.
In the group of individuals over age 70, the link between self-reported hearing trouble and depression was no longer found. However, for women in this group, there was a strong association with depression if their hearing test revealed a moderate hearing problem.
In both groups, women were more likely than men to suffer from depression.
So, what can we do to avoid the depression and sadness that can accompany hearing loss?
The first step is to recognize changes in hearing. Whether you feel you’re having trouble or you are sensing that a family member or friend is struggling to hear, it is important to see a medical professional about it as soon as possible.
If hearing loss is found, the next step is addressing it. Hearing aids have improved dramatically in the past several years and are smaller and more convenient than ever. There are many affordable options that will drastically improve communication and quality of life for people with hearing loss as well as for their loved ones. Your healthcare provider can direct you to the best hearing aid options for your specific situation.
As with any new diagnosis or health concern, there can be an intimidating learning curve to hearing loss. Be patient in the process and be sure to ask your audiologist or physician if you have questions along the way. For the internet savvy, there are several online groups that help people share ways of coping with hearing loss and provide a network of people who are going through similar problems.
Remember, hearing loss doesn’t just affect a person’s ability to hear but their ability to communicate with the people they care about. Helping your loved ones find treatment for hearing loss will not only help them improve their hearing but could potentially save them a lot of stress and frustration and improve their quality of life.