A Connection between Hearing Loss, Depression, and Dementia

A Connection between Hearing Loss, Depression, and Dementia
Matthew Favinger, M.S., F-AAA
Latest posts by Matthew Favinger, M.S., F-AAA (see all)

Hearing is thought by many to occur in the ears, but it actually takes place in the brain. Believe it or not, our sense of hearing is our fastest, even faster than our sense of vision! Our sense of hearing works like this: sound waves are picked up by our outer ears, which then travel down your ear canal. These waves are converted into vibrations by the eardrums, which then go to the inner ear. They are converted into electric signals and conveyed to the brain via the auditory nerve. They are processed as sounds we recognize.

The pauses and faults in the auditory process interfere with the brain’s capacity to register and recognize sounds when a person has hearing loss. As a result, it’s no surprise that hearing loss has an impact on brain function. But not only that, but it also affects our mental health. 

According to a new study, untreated hearing loss is linked to two conditions: dementia and hearing loss.

The Study

To get a sense of the connections between these health outcomes, researchers at Columbia University used the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center Uniform Data Set to collect information on 8529 participants aged 60 and over who were free of cognitive impairment at the baseline of the study. This sample included people with and without hearing loss, with and without depression, and people who developed these conditions at the start of the research. 

After looking at these relationships, the researchers asked if having hearing loss, or depression was an indicator of the likelihood of a person developing dementia. Indeed, the results showed that both conditions were correlated with higher rates of dementia. Specifically, the age-related hearing loss had a significant correlation with dementia. Similarly, those with depression at the baseline were more likely to develop dementia during the study. 

The Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia

There are far-reaching implications for not seeking treatment, in addition to the impact of untreated hearing loss on our cognitive ability. Hearing loss is associated with increased stress, anxiety, sadness, and social isolation. All of these things can lead to dementia, especially social isolation among older people.

Hearing loss is a condition that makes it difficult to communicate, leading to people withdrawing from friends and family and eventually isolating themselves entirely rather than dealing with communication challenges.

It’s crucial to remember, however, that untreated hearing loss does not always result in dementia. At the same time, it is critical to seek treatment for hearing loss since its long-term effects could negatively impact various aspects of our lives, from interpersonal interactions to our ability to earn a living.

The Link Between Hearing Loss and Depression

Have you ever been unable to attend a social gathering due to your hearing loss? You know how difficult it is to conduct a discussion with so much background noise, and having too many talks going on simultaneously makes your head spin. You avoid going out because you are embarrassed that you are unable to follow the talks. 

Staying at home may help you avoid unpleasant circumstances. Still, with your social life hurting and less meaningful connections with friends and family, it’s no surprise that your mental health begins to deteriorate.

The path to depression for those with untreated hearing loss might be invisible until it’s too late. Hearing loss occurs gradually, so you may not notice how terrible your hearing has gotten until it’s too late. However, if your hearing isn’t flawless, you’ll feel isolated, your relationships will suffer, and you’ll lose social support. You struggle with self-worth while coping with thoughts of incompetence, and you believe no one else understands what you’re going through. It’s no surprise that hearing loss can lead to depression once you realize how it affects you.

Indeed, research by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) reveals that untreated hearing loss has serious consequences, and it “debunks the idea that untreated hearing loss in older people is a harmless illness,” according to NCOA’s James Firman. Seniors with untreated hearing loss experience much higher levels of anxiety, paranoia, and sadness, as well as fewer social interactions and support.

Treating Hearing Loss

Don’t wait until it’s too late if you’ve noticed changes in your hearing. Take a hearing test and seek treatment for hearing loss to improve your hearing health and general wellness. For additional information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today!