The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has reported that are nearly 30 million people in the United States who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some 15% of all Americans, across the entire age spectrum, are experiencing difficulties hearing—approximately two out of every 1,000 children are born with some form of hearing loss in one or both of their ears. Because there are so many people experiencing hearing loss, it is very important to understand how it is connected to a range of issues; namely, how people with untreated hearing loss can face serious mental and emotional decline. Knowing the relationships between hearing loss and social anxiety, in particular, may go a long way in helping people with untreated hearing loss feel more socially connected.
Our abilities to hear are intimately connected to our cognitive and emotional well-being: our hearing shapes how we feel connected to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to our surroundings. Untreated hearing loss of course makes it difficult for people to communicate with friends, loved ones, and coworkers. When left untreated, hearing loss, mixed with disconnection, can make people feel socially isolated, can make them feel overwhelmingly anxious to be in group settings, and can make going to work feel impossible. This is sometimes because hearing in complicated sound environments is very difficult: having conversations in restaurants, in large groups, and generally in places where there are multiple and overlapping sounds can exacerbate already difficult hearing scenarios.
Links Between Hearing Loss & Mental Health
Researchers at the University of Gothenburg recently conducted a study on how hearing loss affects people’s personalities and moods and they found that, when left untreated, hearing loss can affect people’s moods in subtle and sometimes drastic ways. They published a study in the Journal of Personality that was comprised of 400 people who were between 80 and 98 years old. They followed these study participants for six years, closely monitoring their physical and mental abilities every two years. The researchers found that people with increasing hearing levels became less outgoing over time.
Anne Ingeborg Berg, PhD, is a licensed psychologist, and was one of the lead researchers on the study. Regarding the study, she noted that, “To our knowledge, this is the first time a link between hearing and personality changes has been established in longitudinal studies.” She followed up by saying that, “Surprisingly, we did not find that declining overall health and functional capacity make people less outgoing. But hearing loss directly affects the quality of social situations. If the perceived quality of social interaction goes down, it may eventually affect whether and how we relate to others.”
Treating Hearing Loss
Treating hearing loss in order to remain more socially connected has another, hidden effect: slowing down the possibility of cognitive decline. Studies have been conducted linking untreated hearing loss to anxiety and depression, but also very serious cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, in particular. So, while treating hearing loss can work wonders for people wanting to feel more connected to the people and environments that they engage in every day, it can also frankly save your life.
People with hearing loss can also take steps to alert people around them that they have unique hearing needs—they may need to be spoken to in one ear over the other, or they may simply need to have important conversations in quiet settings with no background noise. The conversations and treatment plan that one can have around hearing health can be critically important to improving a person’s mood in the short and long term. Beginning the conversation about what your community can do to help you feel more socially engaged and connected will often simply lead to more social engagement and connection.
Treating hearing loss with hearing aids is a safe and easy way to amplify the hearing already present. The first step is to visit us at Elite Hearing for a hearing test and then determining the care path that is best. Our team at Elite Hearing can fit you with a hearing aid, help you make tough decisions regarding your hearing needs and what styles might be best for you, and the pros and cons of a variety of hearing aid devices.