The little-known link between hearing loss and depression

Comic by Stromoski, continued below

By Maryse Thomas

Hearing loss is often thought of as an inevitable, harmless, and sometimes comical part of aging. However, research is increasingly linking age-related hearing loss to several other chronic health conditions, showing a need for it to be taken more seriously. These include depression, cognitive decline, dementia, diabetes, and heart disease. Among these conditions, depression is one of the most prevalent and is present in 5-10% of hearing impaired individuals.

A possible link between depression and hearing loss may relate to the social aspects of being hard of hearing. People with hearing loss frequently experience difficulties with communication, which can result in strained personal relationships, social isolation, and loneliness. In turn, feelings of loneliness can lead to anxiety, depression, and a diminished overall quality of life. Problems with communication can also negatively affect the lives of family members and caregivers, something that hearing-impaired persons are not always aware of.

Although this path from hearing loss to depression makes sense, it is important to point out that most studies linking depression and hearing loss cannot establish the direction of the relationship. More explicitly, it is still unknown whether hearing loss causes depression, depression causes hearing loss, or whether both hearing loss and depression are caused by something else. This is also true for other chronic conditions that have been linked to hearing loss, indicating that more research is needed to fully understand the connection.

Regardless of the direction of the relationship, treating hearing loss using hearing aids has been shown to have a positive effect on quality of life and to reduce symptoms of depression, loneliness, and anxiety. While some people may feel uneasy about wearing a hearing aid at first, the earlier their hearing can be corrected, the better the outcome for their mental health. Knowing that hearing loss is a risk factor for various chronic conditions, it is important to look out for their symptoms so that Grandpa’s inability to keep up with conversation at the dinner table can be treated instead of endearingly laughed off.

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