The Hearing Loss Association of America says that about 48 million Americans suffer some degree of hearing loss. In fact, hearing loss is the third most common chronic medical conditions among older adults. If you are one of those Americans, you already know that hearing loss makes it difficult to engage in conversations, talk on the telephone and hear dialogue on television or at the movies. What you may not know, however, is that hearing loss can negatively affect your mind.
The Better Hearing Institute says that hearing loss can have a negative effect on your social, psychological, cognitive and physical well-being. Hearing problems can lead to social isolation and depression. Hearing loss can also lead to thinking problems and cognitive decline.
Hearing Loss, Cognitive Decline and Brain Structure
In a 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that declines in thinking skills happened faster among people with hearing loss than among those with normal hearing. The Johns Hopkins researchers studied nearly 2,000 volunteers over the age of 70 and found that those with hearing loss were more likely to develop cognitive impairment. The scientists estimate that a hearing-impaired senior would develop cognitive impairment in just under eight years on average, compared with 11 years in older adults without hearing problems.
Unaddressed hearing loss affects your ability to hear sounds accurately. It also interferes with your ability to process auditory information and make sense of what you hear. Scientists in one study use an MRI to look at the effects hearing loss has on brain activity and structure. They found that people with hearing problems had less gray matter in the area responsible for speech comprehension, known as the auditory cortex.
Hearing Loss and Mood
Hearing loss can have a negative effect on your emotional health and mood. Many people who struggle with hearing loss report:
- Feelings of irritability, negativism and anger
- Chronic fatigue, tension, stress and depression
- Avoiding or withdrawing from social situations
- Feelings of loneliness, isolation and social rejection
- Increased risk to personal safety
- Impaired memory, ability to learn new tasks
- Diminished job performance
- Reduced emotional and physical health
Older adults who struggle with hearing loss often say that being “hard of hearing” causes communication problems and frequently interferes with thinking and concentration. This leads to distraction, inattentiveness and boredom, in the very least. At its worst, a hearing problem can cause a person to withdraw or stop participating in the things they love.
The inability to hear and communicate can result in negative feelings of shame, inadequacy and humiliation, as it can be embarrassing to feel left out or worry about responding inappropriately in social situations. While this shame prompts some people to seek out treatment for their hearing loss, others worry that the embarrassment of wearing a hearing aid will cause further social isolation.
If you have hearing loss and are concerned about its effects on your mind or mood, make an appointment with your hearing professional. Wearing a hearing aid may improve your hearing and reduce your risk for negative cognitive and emotional effects associated with hearing loss.