One of the biggest myths about hearing loss is that it isn’t something to be concerned about. Many people see gradual hearing loss as a natural sign of aging. They think it’s simply something to live with and something that doesn’t have any impact outside of their own hearing ability.
The truth is quite different. Hearing loss is not just a normal part of getting older. In truth, it is a largely preventable and treatable condition. It also has a number of major side effects, including serious effects on mental health. Ignoring your declining hearing could lead to serious problems for you and your loved ones.
The Effects of Hearing Loss on the Brain
Many people think of hearing loss as an isolated condition. However, it is actually linked to a number of mental conditions and problems. Below, you’ll find brief explanations of some serious conditions linked to hearing loss.
One of the most serious side effects of hearing loss is an increased risk of depression. One study by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) found, among many other side effects, “significantly more of the seniors with untreated hearing loss reported feelings of sadness or depression that lasted two or more weeks during the previous years.”
How does hearing loss lead to depression? Nobody knows the exact way hearing loss is linked to depression, but there are several possibilities:
- Hearing loss isolates you from others, making communication and interaction more difficult.
- Hearing loss takes away or lessens enjoyment of familiar activities and hobbies such as watching TV or movies, talking with friends, and outdoor activities.
- Hearing loss can reduce people’s self-confidence, making them feel less adequate and leading to depressed feelings.
Along with depression, hearing loss can also cause other mood changes. The most common is irritability or frustration.
According to the same NCOA study above, nearly a quarter of people with untreated hearing loss were likely to agree with the statement, “People get angry with me usually for no reason.” However, there often is a reason – other people get frustrated when someone repeatedly can’t hear them. In addition, people with hearing loss often get frustrated themselves when they can’t hear what’s going on around them.
Over time, this buildup of irritability can have long-lasting negative effects. Chronic stress has been linked to changes in the structure and performance of the brain, as well as a heightened risk of Alzheimer’s disease and many other conditions and diseases.
Loss of Balance
One of the largest causes of injuries to the elderly is slips and falls. As you age, your bones become less dense and more brittle. Even a slight fall could be enough to cause serious injury. What does this have to do with hearing loss? Damage to the inner ear could affect both your hearing and also your balance, making falls more likely.
There are many conditions and diseases which can damage the sensitive organs in the inner ear. These can include ear infections, circulatory problems, arthritis, and some antibiotics and other medications. Damaging these organs could lead to problems with hearing as well as problems with balance and dizziness.
Hearing loss coupled with balance problems could indicate very serious issues in your ears. If you notice these symptoms in yourself, you should visit an audiologist or otologist right away.
Memory Problems & Dementia
Another way hearing loss can affect the brain is through memory. Research suggests hearing loss could have a negative effect on the brain’s ability to form new memories or recall information, and could even lead to a higher incidence of dementia.
How does hearing loss lead to these conditions? Researchers still aren’t sure exactly why hearing loss affects memory, but the prevailing theory has to do with increased cognitive load.
In short, the theory states that for most people, hearing is a largely automatic process. We don’t concentrate much on hearing what goes on around us. However, as hearing declines we must actively concentrate more on what we hear in order to understand it. This increased concentration means our brains are more occupied with figuring out what we hear instead of thinking about what it means. This leads to our brains committing less information to memory.
Other studies have linked severe hearing loss to increased cognitive decline and a higher risk for dementia. The exact link between hearing loss and dementia isn’t well understood. That said, individuals who treat their hearing loss are much less likely to be at risk than those who don’t.
Preventing Hearing-Related Mental Problems
While there aren’t any cures for depression, irritability or memory loss, there are ways to lower the risk of their occurrence. There are also ways to lower the risk of hearing loss and help prevent it from affecting you.
The best way to prevent hearing loss is simply to protect your hearing. Be cautious with your ears around loud noises like power tools, construction sites or concerts. Don’t turn music or TV shows up too loud, and always try to reduce noises that are uncomfortable to listen to.
You should also be sure to get regular hearing checkups, especially if you’re in your 60s or older. If your regular physician doesn’t perform hearing tests, find a qualified audiologist near you who can.
Will Hearing Aids Prevent Mental Problems?
Many of the negative effects of hearing loss are related to the isolation and frustration it causes. With hearing aids, you can restore your hearing ability and go back to enjoying your life the way you did before your hearing loss.
Looking for the best hearing aids in Oklahoma? The Oklahoma Hearing Center is your best source for audiology and hearing aids in Oklahoma. Call us today at (405) 546-4280 to schedule your appointment at one of our 6 locations, or visit us on Facebook to learn more about how to protect and recover your hearing.