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New Study Examines Connection Between Hearing Loss and Depression

08/13/2015

A new study by the National Council on Aging indicates that people with hearing loss are 50 percent more likely to suffer from depression. While a link was uncovered by previous research, this study went a step further by focusing on how hearing aids are likely to help. And yet a large number of people in need of treatment continue to put off getting hearing aids.

The study was presented at the American Psychological Association’s 123rd annual convention.  The research team looked at 2,304 patients suffering from hearing loss and noticed that those who refused to use hearing aids had a 50 percent greater likelihood of suffering from sadness or depression, and were much less likely to regularly take part in social activities, as compared to patients who did wear hearing aids. Hearing aid wearers were also less likely to suffer from ongoing depression, anxiety, frustration, and cognitive decline.

“Many hard of hearing people battle silently with their invisible hearing difficulties, straining to stay connected to the world around them, reluctant to seek help,” said David Myers, PhD, a psychology professor and textbook author at Hope College in Holland, Michigan in a press release commenting on the results of the study. Dr. Myers himself speaks from experience ― he was diagnosed with hearing loss as a teen, yet didn’t wear a hearing aid until he was in his forties.

The survey found that most people wait for at least six years before seeking treatment for their condition, and the younger they are (20-69 years old) the more likely they will resist getting hearing aids (50 percent less likely to seek treatment than those age 70 or older). The reasons for the delay range from a general lack of information about all the positive things hearing aids can do, denial that they have hearing loss, and vanity (not wanting to look “old” or “out of touch”).

While depression itself is a serious condition, the study further went on to warn that untreated hearing loss, combined with social withdrawal, could also increase the likelihood of developing dementia. This is in keeping with the findings of previous studies, which uncovered a correlation between untreated hearing loss and dementia. While the exact causes remain debatable, researchers increased social isolation, cognitive overload at having to strain to hear and understand speech, and lack of sensory input due to an inability to hear well are the likeliest culprits.

Study results continue to flow in confirming that people with hearing loss who wear hearing aids are less likely to experience depressive symptoms, and are more likely to enjoy greater social engagement and overall improved quality of life. We hope more people will accept and address their hearing loss, and then take the next logical step of seeing a hearing care professional.

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