Hearing loss isn’t often thought of as a condition that can harm our mental health, but research has shown that it can make an impact on our self-confidence and relationships with others — our social health, in other words — in ways that impact our mental well-being.
Several large-scale studies have revealed how hearing loss might affect our mental health. A National Council on the Aging survey of 2,300 adults (and more than 2,000 of their accompanying loved ones) found that those with untreated hearing loss are more likely to report feelings of depression, anxiety, and paranoia, and they are less likely to participate in social activities than those who wear hearing aids. These depressed or anxious feelings become more severe as the individual’s hearing loss becomes more severe.
It’s common for someone with even a mild hearing loss (a loss in the ability to hear a sound at 25 to 40 decibels) to strain to hear or understand what a friend, loved one, or co-worker is saying — especially in noisy environments. Straining to hear another person’s words uses precious brainpower that could be spent thinking of a reply — continuing the conversation — rather than trying to understand what is being said. Communicating with friends and loved ones becomes an exhausting, frustrating experience, and some people would rather avoid these situations altogether.
Unfortunately, as hearing loss becomes more common among baby boomers, social isolation has become more common. In a 2014 article published in the Journal of Personality, hearing loss was found to be independently associated with a decrease in how outgoing older individuals are. Those with hearing loss are less outgoing and less satisfied with life as a whole.
Conversely, new literature displays the positive impacts of hearing loss treatment on a person’s relationships and quality of life. Research published in the February 2015 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology found that those who treated their hearing loss saw improvements in quality of life, relationship satisfaction, communication, and social functioning. Conversations, TV, group activities, and life in general become more enjoyable.
If you don’t feel that you’re hearing as well as you could, please contact your local hearing care specialist and book an appointment for a hearing test. It’s important to get a hearing test regularly to ensure that your hearing is healthy, and that you aren’t missing out on the little moments that make life truly enjoyable.