Hearing decline can have a drastic effect on the lives of those who suffer from it. Beyond not being able to interact with the world around us as you’ve always done; unable to hear traffic, conversation or music, a decline in hearing has also been linked to cognitive decline and symptoms of depression and other mood disorders like anxiety. A study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics in 2010, found that there are a large amount of cognitive and psychological benefits of using hearing aids, including improved mental health and a decrease in the likelihood of developing dementia.
Looking at a group of moderately to severely hearing impaired patients over 65 years of age, Acar and colleagues measured the level of hearing loss in each subject as well as administering tests which looked at both level of depressive symptoms and cognitive performance. After providing the patients with hearing aids, the tests were repeated once a three month period had elapsed, with all patients showing a significant improvement in both psychological state and mental functions. In their study Acar and colleagues identified that while dementia wasn’t caused solely by hearing loss, its onset was worsened by hearing loss. With over half of Australians aged between 60 and 70 experiencing some kind of hearing loss, treatment of this problem is vital.
Hearing Loss and Declining Age
As we get older our hearing inevitably declines, this is known as Presbycusis. The most common type of Sensorineural Hearing Loss, Presbycusis is caused by the natural ageing of our auditory system. Occurring gradually, it initially affects our ability to hear higher pitched sounds and eventually leads to the inability to hear a larger range of noises. There is little that can be done to prevent this type of hearing loss as it is a normal part of ageing for many, however with early treatment such as the fitting of hearing aids, the symptoms can be vastly improved and decline slowed, so that quality of life can be maintained.
Cognitive Decline and Hearing Loss
When a person’s hearing declines, without the use of hearing aids, their mental health was found also to decline for the following reasons:
- Sensory deprivation (not being able to hear sound) can mean a loss of independence and lead to depression
- Inability to engage in social interactions can lead to depression as sufferers feel isolated from their friends and families
- Not being able to understand what is being said in interactions with strangers (as well as loved ones) can exacerbate anxiety disorders
- Inability to hear can lead to an avoidance of medical practitioners and lead to self-assessed health conditions
Mood disorders such as anxiety and depression can then lead to the worsening of preexisting pathological conditions, such as dementia and alzheimers. In their study, Acar and colleagues suggested that a decline in cognitive functions often indicated a progression of dementia and alzheimers, which is then followed by an increase in morbidity, mortality and problems associated with the care of older patients.
Improvement with Hearing Aids
Acar’s study found that amongst the focus group, none of whom had used hearing aids before, a drastic improvement was observed after three months of treatment, including:
- a large decrease of depressive signs
- A statistically significant increase in cognitive functions
Dementia Australia recommends regular testing of your, and your loved ones’ hearing in order to help avoid cognitive decline associated with hearing loss. Early diagnosis of hearing loss and prompt intervention can lead to a maintained quality of life, enjoyable social interactions and the ability for those with hearing loss to still feel they are an important part of their community.