New Research Links Hearing Loss and Psychosis
A number of comorbidities (unrelated conditions that accompany one another) have been linked to untreated hearing loss for years. One recent study explored an alarming link that hasn’t received much attention before now ― between hearing loss and a number of psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia.
What constitutes psychosis?
Psychosis refers to mental illness so severe that the sufferer’s emotions and thinking are no longer governed by objective reality. Characterized by delusions and hallucinations, psychosis can evolve from common indicators of emotional distress (problems with concentration, social withdrawal, changes in mood, thoughts, and beliefs) to more extreme symptoms (difficulty functioning in society, depression, inability to care for oneself, and suicidal ideation).
Psychosis can be brought on by illness, environment, or a combination of both. People with severe, untreated psychotic disorders can become a danger to themselves or others. Psychotic disorders include the following:
- Schizophrenia: Involves impaired thinking, emotions, and behaviors due to an inability to process sensory input correctly and discern actual experiences from hallucination and delusions.
- Bipolar disorder: More commonly called manic-depressive disorder in prior decades it causes extreme fluctuations in mood, energy, and general function. Usually involves episodes of overt change in normal mood and behavior, such as extreme excitement, anger, or depression.
- Delusional disorder: Also known as paranoid disorder, it is a general description of a psychotic state where the sufferer can no longer distinguish reality from imagination. May involve feeling as though others are trying to harm you or are secretly in love you without basis in truth.
- Psychotic depression: Occurs when a bout of major depression is complicated by psychosis. This can involve hallucinations, such as hearing imaginary voices, or delusions of being unloved and unwanted.
On the positive side, the majority of those diagnosed with a psychotic disorder can recover, or at least manage their symptoms successfully, through the use of medication and psychological therapy. However, as is the case with all illnesses, the best possible treatment is onset prevention. That’s why this new study of the impact of hearing loss on the development of psychosis represents an important breakthrough in mental healthcare.
Treating hearing impairment protects mental health
Multiple studies are conducted each year to uncover the effects hearing loss may have on other diseases. They’ve revealed hearing loss may be a precursor of a more serious condition (e.g., cardiovascular disease and diabetes). They’ve also identified diseases for which hearing loss is a likely contributing factor (e.g., dementia and depression).
The link between hearing loss and psychosis was researched by a team from the University Medical Center Utrecht and the Brain Center Rudolf Magnus in Holland. It posited hearing loss that begins early in life increases the likelihood of developing schizophrenia later. Hearing loss was also linked to a notable increase of developing all forms of psychotic disorders. The researchers theorize that the established comorbidities of hearing loss―isolation, loss of mental acuity― along with problems distinguishing self-generated thoughts and behaviors from those of others, combined with elimination or interruption of a major source of sensory input (hearing) contributes to psychosis in individuals who already have a tendency toward developing a psychotic disorder. They go on to suggest early intervention and treatment of hearing loss is essential for preventing psychosis in at-risk individuals.
Although this study will surely lead to much discussion and further investigation before any firm conclusions are made, this much is clear ― treating hearing loss can only benefit patients and should be encouraged by the psychiatric community and well as the general medical establishment. The earlier the intervention with hearing aids the greater the likelihood of avoiding, or at least mitigating, the onset of psychotic disorders.
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