Hearing loss and depression are quite prevalent among older adults. Both of these conditions are often difficult to identify because they generally develop gradually and may not always be apparent to the afflicted individual. Various studies have shown a complex association between hearing loss and depression. Of course, the two conditions can occur separately, but research indicates an increased risk of depression for seniors with hearing loss.
How Are Hearing Loss and Depression Linked?
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that both hearing loss and depression are common conditions in adults over the age of 65. As the body and mind slowly decline it opens the door to a wide range of potential health problems.
Age and Hearing Loss
Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis, typically involves a gradual breakdown of the physical structure of the inner ear. As the hairs in the inner ear become reduced or damaged, it becomes more difficult to accurately detect and identify sounds. These hairs are responsible for carrying signals to the auditory nerve, which then get passed to the brain for interpretation. This can make it difficult to understand speech and communicate effectively.
Age and Depression
While depression is common in older adults, it should not be considered a natural part of aging. There is an array of factors that can contribute to depression in seniors, some of the more common ones include:
- Existing medical issues – chronic health conditions
- Diagnosis of a severe health problem, suffering a stroke or heart attack
- High or chronic stress
- Sleep issues, lack of quality sleep
- Diminished mobility
- Lack of physical exercise and poor nutrition
- Social isolation
- Hearing loss
Hearing Loss and Depression
When we take a closer look at the impact of hearing loss on the life of the affected individual, it becomes clearer to see how hearing loss poses an increased risk for depression. Because hearing loss generally makes it more strenuous to communicate, this often results in older adults becoming withdrawn to avoid scenes of stress and embarrassment. One of the most significant problems with hearing loss is that it usually comes on so gradually that the person affected is not consciously aware of it. This can lead to further frustration and confusion. If hearing loss goes long enough untreated, it can easily result in isolation and depression.
Hearing Aids Help Combat Hearing Loss and Depression
Hearing loss in older adults can end up forming a barrier between them and the rest of society as they struggle with the ability to communicate, and may become more distant and withdrawn as a result. Feeling a sense of belonging is typically essential to mental health, and when that becomes compromised, seniors may feel different from others and conflicted about how they fit in. Hearing aids can help restore the ability to communicate more easily and thoroughly for people with hearing loss.
It’s Not Just About Volume
A common misconception about hearing loss is that if you turn up the volume, the problem is solved. Repeating yourself and speaking louder around seniors with hearing loss is generally not contributing to resolving the issue. It often just serves to allow the individual to continue to live with hearing loss untreated, without even really making things any easier.
Hearing loss often involves the inability to detect certain sound frequencies. All the volume adjustment in the world will not assist with this issue. Hearing aids are designed to help restore the ability to hear those lost frequencies and become reacquainted with the meanings of those sounds.
Daily Hearing Aid Wear for Seniors With Hearing Loss
Seniors who decide to get hearing aids to treat their hearing loss are often shocked and pleasantly surprised about how the devices are able to enhance communicative capacity. However, consistent wear is crucial to ensure the hearing aids are delivering optimal performance. The more regularly hearing aids are worn, the more thoroughly hearing abilities are likely to be restored.
One study performed at the University of Manchester examined the effects of hearing aid wear on depressed seniors with hearing loss. The results demonstrated that seniors who wore their hearing aids “most of the time” experienced a greater reduction in the symptoms of depression than those who wore their hearing aids “some of the time”. Hearing aids need to be worn regularly in a range of situations so the brain gets re-familiarized with quiet settings as well as noisy ones.