Hearing Loss and Mental Health

Happy with hearing aid

Although hearing loss is known to reduce quality of life, a less-understood effect is its impact on mental health. Individuals with hearing loss struggle in social contexts more often, putting them at an increased risk of social isolation, cognitive strain, depression, anxiety, and loss of self-esteem.

Learn about the links between hearing loss and mental health, its types and causes, find out why early diagnosis matters, and discover which solutions are available to prevent or treat these symptoms.

Defining Hearing Loss

To understand hearing loss, you need to learn about healthy or normal hearing ranges. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a person meets the definition of normal hearing capabilities if they have a hearing threshold of 20 decibels (dB) or better in both ears.

The hearing threshold is the lowest level of sound that can be heard by a person, with sounds below this level being imperceptible. Hearing impairment is identified when an individual’s ability to hear sounds in one or both ears falls below this normal threshold, typically around 20 decibels (dB).

Prevalence of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is one of the world’s most common health conditions. WHO statistics state that over 1.5 billion people worldwide, or just under 20% of the global population, have some form of hearing loss. By 2050, this number is projected to reach 2.5 billion, of which 700 million may require hearing rehabilitation, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants.

In the United States, the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) states that approximately 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. Adult men are twice as likely as women to have hearing loss across nearly every age group.

Types and Common Causes of Hearing Loss

There are four types of hearing loss based on which parts of the auditory system are affected. These include:

  • Conductive Hearing Loss (CHL) is one of the most common forms of hearing loss, especially among children. It typically occurs when sound cannot pass through the outer and middle ear, such as due to earwax blockage, an ear infection, or an ear canal malformation. Most forms of CHL are preventable and treatable.
  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL) is the most common permanent hearing loss among older adults. It occurs when the inner ear (cochlea) or the nerves connecting it to the brain are damaged.
    One of the most common causes of SNHL is old age. Other common causes include physical trauma, excessive noise exposure, genetic factors, ototoxic medication, and certain autoimmune diseases.
  • Mixed Hearing Loss symptoms are categorized as mixed when the causes feature conductive and sensorineural symptoms.
  • Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder (ANSD) is a hearing disorder in which sound enters the inner ear normally, but the transmission of signals from the inner ear to the brain is impaired. This results in hearing loss and difficulty processing sounds. The exact cause of ANSD may be genetic and environmental factors.

Degrees of Hearing Loss

The medical community typically uses the classification system created by J. G. Clark and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) to quantify the degree of hearing loss. This classification system defines ranges at which a person experiences hearing loss using the notation (dB HL). For instance, a person who cannot hear sounds at or below 32 decibels is at 32 dB HL and is considered to have mild hearing loss.

Degree of hearing loss Hearing loss range (dB HL)
Normal hearing 15 dB HL or less
Slight 16-25 dB HL
Mild 26-40 dB HL
Moderate 41-55 dB HL
Moderately severe 56-70 dB HL
Severe 71-90 dB HL
Profound 91+ dB HL or higher

The Importance of Mental Well-being

Mental health is the collection of emotional, psychological, and social factors that affect how you think, feel, act, and deal with stress. Positive mental health is essential for overall well-being because it enables us to develop emotional resilience, form healthy and meaningful relationships, solve problems more efficiently, and improve decision-making.

Your mind and body are also interconnected systems. A healthy body supports a positive mood and mental clarity, while a sound mind makes it easier to stick to healthy habits like eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.

Hearing loss connection with mental health

The Connection Between Hearing Loss and Mental Health

Hearing loss is connected to mental health in multiple complex ways. Depending on the type and intensity of the auditive symptoms, individuals with hearing impairments can face various challenges and difficulties.

Social Isolation

One of the most common issues linked to hearing loss is its impact on daily communication. Difficulty hearing others can break down conversations, frustrate others, and cause people to limit or avoid social situations. Studies have established a strong link between hearing loss and feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Analog hearing aids can be especially effective in reducing feelings of loneliness because they amplify sounds in a straightforward manner that matches the brain’s muscle memory for hearing.

By providing sound enhancement that mimics the natural hearing process, analog hearing aids help individuals better understand speech and maintain social interactions. This approach combats the loneliness associated with hearing loss and uses the brain’s long-established patterns of sound processing, supporting more effective communication and overall quality of life.

Anxiety

Hearing is fundamental to how we connect with the world around us, shaping our interactions and emotional experiences. Familiar sounds, like a mother’s voice, are comforting and calming because they are deeply rooted in our early experiences and emotional memories. This connection to comforting sounds highlights why hearing is vital; it’s not just about perceiving noise but about maintaining an emotional and psychological link to our surroundings and the people in them.

When someone experiences hearing loss, this connection is disrupted, leading to increased anxiety and stress. The difficulty in hearing can make individuals feel constantly on edge as they become hypervigilant for sounds they struggle to hear. This hypervigilance is similar to what is observed in anxiety disorders—where there’s a pervasive fear of missing out on important sounds or misunderstanding what is being said, which can lead to panic-like symptoms.

This connection between hearing and emotional well-being is supported by research, such as a 2014 study showing that older adults with even mild hearing loss were 32% more likely to develop anxiety than those with normal hearing.

The risk increased to 59% for those with moderate or more severe hearing impairment. This data emphasizes the importance of hearing not just for communication but as a critical element in our emotional health and our sense of security and belonging in the world.

Depression

A large-scale study conducted between 2005 and 2010 established that adults with hearing impairments, especially older adult women, are more likely to have depression. These findings were reinforced in a newer 2021 study, which tested the effects of hearing impairment on the quality of life of elderly individuals. The findings were unmistakable: there’s a strong link between cognitive decline and sensory deficits, such as issues with sight and hearing, all of which significantly contribute to the onset of depression.

Untreated hearing loss can be a direct cause of depression among individuals, particularly older individuals. Another 2021 study demonstrated that treatment methods, such as hearing aids, promote better hearing and reduce depressive feelings, improving mental well-being.

By using analog hearing aids, which enhance sound in a more natural and familiar manner, individuals can better absorb and process auditory information. This compatibility with the brain’s established sound processing methods can improve hearing, which helps mitigate the feelings of depression that may accompany hearing loss.

Dementia

A 2023 study demonstrated a link between hearing loss and dementia. The study analyzed the health data of over 2,400 individuals, over half of whom were 80 or older. Researchers found a direct correlation between hearing loss severity and cognitive decline leading to dementia.

Treatment methods, such as hearing aids, have also been shown to slow the symptoms of cognitive decline associated with hearing loss. A 2023 clinical trial demonstrated that people who received hearing aids experienced a 50% slower reduction in cognitive decline over the study’s 3-year period than those who did not.

More specifically, a 2023 study demonstrated that analog hearing aids outperformed modern digital hearing aids for those with dementia. This may be due to the way they compress sounds rather than differentiate various sound frequencies, providing a more natural sound that better replicates how the ear actually hears.

These results show the direct link between hearing impairments and cognitive decay, emphasizing the importance of hearing aids or assistive listening devices in dementia treatment and prevention.

Coping Mechanisms for Individuals with Hearing Loss

For individuals with hearing loss, coping strategies aren’t simply about making everyday conversations easier to follow. They can improve overall quality of life, preserve mental health, and reduce the risk of developing anxiety disorders, depressive symptoms, social isolation, and cognitive decay.

Three effective methods to cope with or treat hearing loss available today include hearing aids, psychotherapy, and support groups.

Hearing Aids and Assistive Devices

Hearing aids and assistive listening devices (ALDs) are technologically based solutions to reduce the impact of hearing loss.

A basic hearing aid system uses a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. It captures and increases the volume of ambient sounds in the wearer’s ears, making it easier for them to hear. In the past, most hearing aids were analog-based, meaning they processed sound without first converting it into a digital signal.

Modern devices and ALDs are digital and frequently use more sophisticated technologies, such as radio signals, infrared systems, directional microphones, or noise reduction systems. These technologies can help filter voices from background noise, suppress reverberation effects, amplify distant sounds, and adapt to the wearer’s unique hearing profile. However, these assistive devices are complex, drain batteries quickly, and may not consistently deliver the highest or most natural sound quality.

Analog Hearing Labs TrueEQ has revived analog technology for the modern age. These analog-based hearing aids retain the mechanical simplicity of their predecessors while using premium audiology-grade components. Unlike the sound produced by a typical digital hearing aid, analog sound is not distorted or compressed. Additionally, as analog devices, they have far fewer unnecessary features, allowing them to consume less battery power than equivalent digital models.

Psychotherapy

Individuals who suffer from depression, sadness, isolation, or anxiety due to hearing impairments need efficient solutions to manage these symptoms. Common psychotherapy methods for people with hearing loss and mental health issues include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on recognizing and controlling negative thought patterns, helping patients refocus and cope. CBT is proven to help reduce anxiety and depression, including among individuals with hearing impairments.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), also known as social skills training, provides instructions, behavior rehearsals, and new techniques for communicating with others.
    A 2020 study shows that IPT is effective at improving self-worth and can help individuals previously reluctant to use hearing aids to wear them more often. Combining IPT with regular hearing aid usage may compound the benefits and help decrease overall anxiety and depression.
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). This type of therapy teaches mindfulness techniques, such as controlled breathing and meditation, to manage feelings of stress and anxiety linked to hearing loss.
    A 2017 study examined the effectiveness of MBSR as a treatment for individuals suffering from tinnitus. The study concluded that MBCT can help reduce psychological distress, feelings of anxiety and depression, and tinnitus severity. While MBCT may not treat or reduce all forms of hearing loss, it can be a valuable solution to treat their impact on mental health.

Support Groups

Support groups are safe spaces where other individuals in similar situations can speak openly, share their experiences, and provide emotional support to one another. They are also places to share information and techniques, such as practical coping methods for using hearing aids or managing mental health issues.

Regularly attending support groups can be beneficial to the mental health of individuals with hearing impairments. They encourage advocacy, combat social isolation, and help people make friends and meaningful connections.

Deaf woman takes a hearing test

Why You Need to Get Diagnosed Early

While hearing aids and coping methods can help individuals live with hearing loss, the most effective solution is prevention. Most forms of hearing loss are preventable, and an early diagnosis allows caregivers to identify potential symptoms before the loss becomes too severe.

Getting diagnosed as early as possible offers numerous benefits, including:

  • Better treatment outcomes. Identifying and managing impairment symptoms as early as possible improves your outcomes. The earlier the symptoms are detected, the more efficient therapy and hearing aids will preserve your hearing and communication abilities.
  • Prevents further damage. Most forms of hearing loss in adults are incurable, making them permanent if not treated early. An early diagnosis helps preserve as much of your hearing as possible.
  • Preserves mental health. Early diagnosis and addressing of hearing loss can reduce or mitigate anxiety, loneliness, or feelings of isolation and depression. It can also help you avoid developing disorders or cognitive decay associated with dementia.

Receiving an Early Diagnosis, Step-by-Step

Early diagnosis and prompt intervention can be invaluable tools to manage and cope with hearing loss as effectively as possible. Follow these steps to get tested, evaluated, and receive treatment if needed.

  • Recognize early signs. Typical signs of hearing loss include difficulty understanding conversations, turning the volume up higher than usual, or frequently asking others to repeat themselves.
  • Self-test. Use an online hearing test to help you determine if you might need hearing aids. Online tests do not replace professional evaluations but can encourage you to book a consultation with an audiologist or ENT.
  • Contact your doctor. Schedule an appointment with your doctor or general care practitioner and explain your concerns. They can perform additional checks or refer you to a specialist, such as an audiologist or an otolaryngologist, for further testing.
  • Complete a comprehensive test. A specialist is equipped to test your hearing as comprehensively as possible to determine the type, degree, and potential causes of hearing loss.
  • Discuss treatment options. Your specialist will use the diagnosis to guide you and help you find the best treatment options. They can recommend hearing aids and psychotherapy and refer you to support groups.

Support Your Mental Health and Hearing With Analog Hearing Labs

Hearing aids are a common and proven method to treat hearing loss and mental health issues associated with hearing impairments. Better hearing supports better mental health, from following conversations to reducing feelings of anxiety and isolation.

At Analog Hearing Aids, we believe in providing a high-quality alternative to digital hearing devices. Our TrueEQ analog hearing aid uses audiology-grade components to deliver crisp, clear sound. Contact us today to learn more.

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