Since the mid-90’s medical studies have shown a high correlation between mental health and hearing loss in our senior population. However a recent study conducted by the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, (online, JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, March, 2014) shows new findings that the greater the hearing loss, the higher incidence of depression in patients younger than 70 years of age with a slightly higher incidence in women versus men.
“We found a significant association between hearing impairment and moderate to severe depression,” said study author Dr. Chuan-Ming Li, a researcher at the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. “The cause-and-effect relationship is unknown,” Li said, citing a need for further studies.
It is no surprise to many in the field of Audiology that people with untreated hearing loss find it increasingly difficult to interact with co-workers, family members and in social engagements. The majority, greater than 90%, of all hearing losses in the U.S. are gradual in nature which will mean a slow regression of communication difficulties, frustration with spouses and family and eventually social isolation. The younger or more active one is when a hearing loss is detected, the greater risk of frustration and socially detrimental opportunities.
For the new study, the researchers looked at data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, including more than 18,000 adults aged 18 and older. All participants filled out a questionnaire designed to reveal depression as well as certain age groups actually having a hearing evaluation.
Hearing loss was linked with an increased risk of depression in adults of all ages, but was most pronounced in the respondents aged 18 to 69, the study found. Women had higher rates of depression than men did.
National statistics show that on average it takes an individual 5-7 years from the onset of hearing loss before one seeks treatment for the loss. One stark realization, other than the mental health aspect of hearing loss, is the fact that the inner ear hearing nerves, or hair cells, work on a “use it or loose it” philosophy, like most nerves in the body. Lack of stimulation those small hair cells, results in memory failure on how to fire the proper sound or signals to the brain. Over time, the brain can forget how to use certain sound information if deprived for too many years causing this auditory deprivation.
With over 32 million Americans diagnosed with treatable hearing loss, it is no surprise that people are beginning to include hearing healthcare in their overall wellness exams. Having a baseline hearing test and becoming more aware of the importance of good hearing in day-to-day communication enhances social engagements and mental status. Furthermore, advanced hearing solutions are making hearing aids no longer a burden but a great enhancement to active lifestyles. With options such as Bluetooth wireless capability and extended wear devices that are 100% invisible, there are even more reasons to stay active with communication and avoid frustration with home and work relationships.
Sources: Chuan-Ming Li, M.D., Ph.D., researcher, U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders; March 6, 2014, JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, online