Mental Health Effects of Losing Your Hearing

Female doctor applying hearing aid to senior man's ear

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Hearing loss does not just affect your ability to hear. The consequences of the loss can affect many areas of your life and lead to serious health issues. Yet, many don’t realize the impact of hearing loss on your mental health.

Hearing is one of your critical senses. Having problems hearing affects your ability to communicate with friends, family, and colleagues. Conversations are stunted if you try to have a good conversation and can’t practice active listening. Additionally, the inability to hear about important matters can endanger your welfare.

This article covers why hearing loss can be so impactful to one's mental health, the causes of hearing loss, and hearing loss treatment.

Why Is Hearing Loss So Important?

Hearing loss affects your functioning at home and at work. It affects your ease in handling everyday activities, like answering the cashier at the grocery store or responding to a question from your bank teller.

You are likely to get into a conflict with people if you continually misunderstand what they say. Or if you keep asking people to repeat themselves. Those with hearing loss sometimes try to cover for it. They pretend they are tired or they weren’t paying attention.

It’s hard to confidently ask questions if you’re fuzzy about what people are saying in the first place. It can be absolutely risky if you can’t hear exactly what someone is saying and that person is your pharmacist explaining a new medication.

Hearing impairment can prevent you from hearing major warnings. For instance, compromised hearing might mean you don’t hear your home’s smoke alarm, local sirens or receive emergency notifications.

What Causes Hearing Loss?

The most common cause of hearing loss in adults is the aging process. Genetic history, noise damage, and other damage to the ear can also cause hearing loss.

Chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and coronary heart disease can also result in major impairment to your hearing.

Physical harm to the ear through rupturing or infection can also damage your hearing. Even ear wax buildup can negatively affect your auditory functioning.

Is Hearing Loss Common in Adults?

The sad news is that hearing loss is a common problem in adults. Damaging noise from traffic, airplanes, or workplaces can impair our hearing. Exposure to loud noise for prolonged periods of time and at high levels has proven to be harmful. At the same time that our hearing is impacted, this noise pollution also increases our stress levels.

Fortunately, those who work with loud machinery at construction sites and in other places are usually encouraged to protect their ears. But many young adults who listen to loud music aren’t thinking about protecting their ears. Not being educated about hearing loss, they are unaware of the dangers of cranking up the music of their favorite bands for hours at a time, seven days a week.

According to The World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 1.1 billion teens and young adults are at risk of developing hearing loss. That’s due to their unsafe exposure to music from smartphones, audio devices, clubs, or concerts.

When we think of hearing impairment, most of us think of its effect on seniors in our communities. Unsurprisingly, hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults.

Approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and close to 50% of those 75 and older have difficulty hearing.

What Is the Impact Of Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss affects your quality of life. Parts of the brain that processes sound (like the temporal lobe) are affected. New research is showing other undesirable effects on your mental well-being. Below, let's take a look at how hearing loss can impact your mental health.

Misunderstandings and Miscommunications

Sometimes older people are wrongly considered to be uncooperative or disagreeable when they are neither. That’s due to their inability to pick up on exactly what’s happening. So, they believe they weren’t told something.

When asked if they’ve had their hearing checked, they might say "no" and refuse to do so. They think there’s no major problem. They may notice ringing in the ears (aka tinnitus) and think it’s not a big deal, for example. Their hearing loss might be gradual over time. So, they don’t notice it.

If they recognize a problem, they might be in denial about the situation. After consistently having a hard time hearing, they might still refuse to get tested. One common reason is that they believe hearing aids make them look old.

Some older adults avoid purchasing hearing aids because the truth is they remain costly. Quite a few find hearing aids too difficult to use and adjust to. Still others in this particular population are just not “help-seeking.”

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorderssays that approximately 28.8 million adults in the U.S. could benefit from using hearing aids. Yet among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss who need hearing aids, only 30% have ever used them.

Irritation and Fatigue

When you can’t hear well, it is not uncommon for those suffering hearing loss to become irritated or frustrated.

You might also become fatigued because it’s exhausting trying to make sense of conversations and stay on track with a television show when you can’t accurately identify what’s being said.

Social Isolation and Loneliness

Over time, some older adults with loss of hearing will begin to withdraw socially. Their self-esteem takes a blow. Rather than struggle to figure out what is being said, they withdraw.

In a recent systematic review called Hearing Loss, Loneliness, and Social Isolation scientists analyzed 2,495 studies and found that hearing loss was associated with a higher risk of loneliness and social isolation.

This association was more pronounced among women than among men. Because loneliness and isolation are associated with increased mortality risks, this is a serious issue.

Depression

It’s psychologically distressing to find the world around you muted or confusing. With physical health issues, especially chronic ones such as hearing loss compounded by mental health issues, depression can easily set in. After all, physical and mental issues are intertwined.

In a recent study on depression in elderly patients with hearing loss, the evidence clearly pointed to an association between hearing loss and depressive symptoms among older adults.

Hearing Loss and Dementia

The relationship between hearing impairment and cognition is an important one these days. In a systematic review and meta-analysis published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers found significant links between age-related hearing loss and cognitive decline.

They also found a link between hearing loss and the development of dementia. According to a Johns Hopkins Medicine article about the hidden risks of hearing loss “mild hearing loss doubled dementia risk. Moderate loss tripled risk, and people with severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia.”

What Are the Treatments for Hearing Loss?

Certain types of hearing loss are preventable and can be treated. Left untreated, naturally, the impairment can become worse.

What Are My Treatment Options?


Common hearing loss treatments include:

  • Hearing aids
  • Audiologic rehabilitation (this type of rehab helps people learn to use their hearing devices or learn how to read lips)
  • Assistive listening devices
  • Medications (if your hearing loss is due to an infection, medication may help)
  • Surgery (e.g., cochlear implants)

A Word From Verywell

If you think you are hard of hearing, make an appointment with your doctor. Ask your doctor or audiologist what kind of hearing loss you have and the severity of the loss. Treatment options are available that can help improve your hearing loss. If you find that your hearing loss is severe, reach out to a mental health professional and they can help you cope with your hearing loss.

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9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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