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Depression’s Link to Hearing Loss

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The findings from a ten-year study by the Journal of the America Medical Association (JAMA) reports of a link between hearing loss and health risks. The risks include a 50 percent greater risk of dementia, a 40 percent greater risk of developing depression and nearly a 30 percent higher risk for unintended falls.

Reuters Health cites data analyzed by researchers, combining the findings from 35 previous hearing studies with participants aged 60 or more, which establishes the connection between hearing loss and depression. The aggregate of the conclusions of these reports suggests that older adults who experience some form of hearing loss are 47 percent more likely to display symptoms of depression. The take away is that depression is often brought about by the isolation of an individual and hearing loss tends to create social isolation. Dr. Nicholas Reed of the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine agrees with the findings published by Reuters. “First, hearing loss impairs communication and influences balance, which can lead to social isolation and decreased physical activity that, in turn, result in depression,” Reed said.

Beyond the problem of social isolation due to hearing loss is that the longer you wait to address the issue the greater the risk of associated cognition problems. An older adult may be able to hear words but not be able to understand their meaning cognitively. It is imperative to see an audiologist and test hearing capabilities to establish an informational baseline and make future adjustments accordingly. Overall, older adults who experience hearing loss tend to withdraw from society and are more likely to experience mild cognitive decline furthering levels of social and emotional loneliness.

It is estimated that 100 million people in the US are exposed to unhealthy levels of noise. Aircraft and automobile noise, leaf blowers and lawnmowers, car stereos and earbuds all contribute to the increase of hearing loss. Hearing loss lowers quality of life and can also have severe implications regarding personal safety. Potential danger warnings like smoke alarms, car horns, fire alarms, public safety announcements all require the ability to hear. Hearing loss limits everyday life experiences in our ability to socialize, work, and communicate. It also limits joyful experience like the sound of a child laughing, a bird singing, a loved song on the radio, or a gab session with a great friend.

Thus far there is no way to undo damaged hearing but other than cost; there is no downside to hearing aids anymore. Their look is discreet, they are easy to learn how to use, and professionally adjustable overtime to compensate for increased hearing loss. Once you factor in the cost of a potential fall, increased risk of dementia, social isolation, and depression, the price of hearing aid(s) winds up being comparatively minimal. Although the study, as reported by Reuters, does not investigate whether treating hearing loss can prevent depression aging Americans should still seek medical attention when experiencing hearing problems.

Hearing is a complex biological phenomenon. First ears capture sound traveling through the air as a vibration in air pressure. The outer ear (pinna) catches the sound waves and indicates its direction, in front, behind, above or below you. The ear canal receives the sound wave and triggers vibrations to the eardrum which becomes amplified by tiny bones known as ossicles. Then the amplified vibrations travel to the cochlea in the inner ear where the sound is translated into nerve impulses that your brain recognizes and processes as distinct sounds.

Hearing and its complexities and loss will continue to get a lot of attention moving forward. In a world full of headphones, earbuds, robust speakers, and unwanted environmental noise, all of us are at risk of having diminished hearing abilities. Turn down the sound whenever possible to improve your quality of life as you age. Hearing loss has a profound impact on your well being. Be proactive in the monitoring of your hearing abilities and subsequent hearing loss as you age.

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