Mental Health & Hearing Loss: How to Help
Recently, my aunt planned a birthday party and invited me and some of our other family. After two years apart, I was excited to see my aunt and spend quality time with her. My aunt is the type of person who enjoys hosting, cooking, and entertaining. It’s what she lives for. When we arrived, I waltzed into the kitchen while she was prepping our food and asked, “How’s it going?”
My aunt paused, looked at me, and replied, “Yeah!” She turned back to her work and continued to prep the menu.
Well, that’s not quite the response I was anticipating. I stepped closer and repeated myself, “How are you doing?” This time, her gaze scanned my eyes and lips.
“Ohhhhh, I’m doing fine!” she responded loudly.
I kept an eye on her for the rest of the day and noticed other disconnects between what people said to her and how she responded. Although she was present, she wasn’t fully aware. I could tell she was straining to follow conversations. When her great-nieces and nephews asked questions, she replied with generic “Mmhmms” and “Isn’t that sweet?” She’d often retreat to the kitchen to “clean up a bit” when she could have been spending time with relatives she hadn’t seen in years.
Our clinic hears these types of stories all too often. Each time, they make me want better for my patients. Our goal is to facilitate better hearing—to open doors of opportunity for our patients. We want them to experience a life full of sound, conversation, and memories. Have you experienced a story like the one above? Do you notice these behaviors in any of your loved ones?
MENTAL HEALTH & HEARING LOSS
As many as one-third of adults over 65 report some form of hearing loss. Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions in older adulthood, ranking as the third most prevalent chronic health condition (Cosh et al. 2018).
Generally, age-related hearing loss begins gradually and might go unnoticed at first. Many times, family members notice small changes before the person with hearing loss becomes aware of the problem. Common actions that demonstrate hearing loss are:
Increasing the TV volume.
Asking for repetition frequently.
Responding with difficulty in noisy situations.
Living with hearing impairment can feel debilitating. It can affect every area of one’s daily life—from hearing the waitress list the specials to understanding the correct amount of money you owe the cashier. Imagine not being able to understand your grandchildren in the backseat or having to frequently ask family, coworkers, or friends to repeat themselves. Hearing and communicating make up so much of our daily rhythm. When our ability to hear is altered, listening becomes exhausting and maybe even embarrassing.
Beyond causing listening fatigue, hearing loss is also associated with mental health disorders. A study conducted in 2018 revealed that patients with untreated age-related hearing loss were almost twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression during their lifetime (Brewster, 2018).
Often, people who cannot hear develop social anxiety, particularly fear of embarrassment. Our patients wonder, “What if I respond incorrectly?” or “What if I annoy them when I ask them to repeat?” This fear of embarrassment causes many people with hearing problems to isolate themselves from the people and activities they love.
Staying at home can lead to social withdrawal and, eventually, changes in one’s mental health and wellbeing. The brain needs auditory input to stay sharp, alert, and active. Without it, pathways in the brain can grow dull. Self-isolating is denying one’s brain a healthy variety of noises and environments.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Studies have shown that interventions such as auditory rehabilitation (listening exercises) and hearing aids can improve a patient’s ability to access and process sounds—even at the level of the brain! Additionally, researchers have discovered that three months of hearing aid use can decrease symptoms of depression (Cosh et al 2019).
If your hearing is holding you back from participating in life the way you used to, please call us at 248-839-5429! We want to help you flip the narrative by opening opportunities for you to thrive every day in an exciting (and loud) world. We’d be happy to discuss the challenges you’re facing and offer help. We hope to equip you with the best possible hearing tools to live a life that is full, noisy, and beautiful.
Brewster, Katharine K., et al. "Age-related hearing loss and its association with depression in later life." The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 26.7 (2018): 788-796.
Contrera, Kevin J., et al. "Association of hearing impairment and anxiety in older adults." Journal of aging and health 29.1 (2017): 172-184.
Cosh, Suzanne, et al. "The association amongst visual, hearing, and dual sensory loss with depression and anxiety over 6 years: The Tromsø Study." International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 33.4 (2018): 598-605.
WHO. Mortality and Budren of Diseases. Geneva: World Health Organisation; 2012. 2.
Yueh B, Shapiro N, MacLean CH, Shekelle PG. Screening and management of adult hearing loss in primary care: scientific review. JAMA. 2003;289(15):1976–1985. doi:10.1001/jama.289.15.1976