A Connection between Hearing Loss, Depression, and Dementia

A Connection Between Hearing Loss, Depression, and Dementia

In Dementia & Alzheimer's, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Jack Felix, ACA, BC, HISLeave a Comment

Jack Felix, ACA, BC, HIS

Hearing loss has far-reaching effects on overall health. This chronic medical condition is experienced by over 48 million people, making hearing loss a pervasive health concern. Beyond reducing hearing ability, hearing loss produces a range of symptoms that can take a toll on mental and cognitive health. Extensive research has shown that hearing loss is typically associated with other medical conditions. This means that hearing loss often occurs or coexists with other chronic conditions. Studies have revealed that depression and dementia are among the conditions that hearing loss is linked with. 

Hearing Loss & Depression

Studies have shown that hearing loss and depression are correlated. Specifically, hearing loss increases the risk of experiencing depressive symptoms. In a 2015 study, researchers investigated this correlation among adults with hearing loss. There were 18,318 participants in the study, ages 18 and older. All participants self-reported their hearing ability and completed a questionnaire assessing depressive symptoms. 

After collecting and analyzing the data, researchers found that the moderate to severe depression was present for:

  • 4.9% for individuals reporting excellent hearing
  • 11.4% for people who reported a little to more significant hearing loss 

These significant findings highlight that depression was more than twice as likely among people who had hearing loss compared to those without. Researchers suggest that the cumulative effects of hearing loss often lead to social withdrawal and isolation which produce (or worsen) depressive symptoms. Hearing loss prevents people from being able to hear and process sound which is a barrier to effective communication. This makes it more challenging to engage in conversations and people with untreated hearing loss often use various strategies to compensate – reading mouths, pretending to hear, asking others to repeat themselves, speaking louder etc. These strategies are ineffective ways to hear better and do not address the underlying cause of hearing loss. This also requires more effort and energy which can be exhausting, producing fatigue and confusion. This kind of burden and labor can cause people to avoid conversations altogether – avoiding social interactions, activities, gatherings etc. Social withdrawal also means spending less time with friends and family which can create distance and tension; straining relationships. The combination of these experiences creates depressive symptoms: loneliness, stress, anxiety etc. which significantly impacts mental health. 

Hearing Loss & Dementia

Another medical condition that is commonly associated with hearing loss is dementia. Dementia refers to several types of conditions that are characterized by cognitive decline: Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body, Parkinson’s etc. Hearing loss increases the risk of cognitive decline, accelerating the onset of dementia.  

In a 2019 study, researchers investigated this correlation through an 8-year study that involved collecting and evaluating data on hearing loss and cognitive function. This study included 10,107 participants who were at least 62 years old and who did not have cognitive issues when the study started. After an 8-year period, researchers found that cognitive decline was: 

  • 30% higher among people with mild hearing loss 
  • 42% higher among people with moderate hearing loss 
  • 54% higher among people with severe hearing loss 

These findings show a significant correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Additionally, the degree of hearing impairment, increases the likelihood of the development of cognitive decline. Researchers suggest a few ways that the brain is impacted by hearing loss, contributing reduced cognitive function. This includes: 

  • Brain Atrophy: there are specific parts of the brain including the auditory cortex, that are responsible for processing speech and sound. Hearing loss causes these areas and the neural networks to become inactive. This inactivity reduces their function, impacting cognitive health.
  • Cognitive Overload: other parts of the brain try to compensate by stepping in to process incoming sound. This disproportionate energy can overload the brain and cognitive capacity. 
  • Social Withdrawal: one of the major effects of hearing loss is social withdrawal. People with untreated hearing loss can avoid conversations and social engagement because strained communication makes it challenging. This not only impacts mental health but also provides the brain and body with less stimuli. 

Seeking Treatment

To decrease the risk of developing other medical conditions including dementia and depression, it is imperative to address hearing loss. Prioritize your hearing health today by scheduling an appointment for a hearing assessment!

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