According to the National Institute on Aging, approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 suffers from hearing loss.
Losing your ability to hear can dramatically impact the way you interact with others and experience life. It can also put you at greater risk for developing mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. One study showed that older adults with deafness were 47% more likely to experience depression symptoms. For those who already have mental health issues, hearing loss can worsen the problem.
How does a hearing impairment affect you emotionally? Hearing loss, whether mild, moderate, or profound—interferes with our ability to communicate and socialize. It affects the quality of our interactions with other people, whether we’re trying to understand someone on the phone or order a meal in a restaurant. Losing the ability to hear and interpret things clearly can make a person feel separate from the rest of the world.
Participating in everyday conversation is a struggle for those with hearing loss. As a result the individual may feel shame, awkwardness, and inadequacy because of misunderstanding or difficulty keeping up with the discussion. The inability to hear clearly can cause disorientation, leading the person to behave in socially unacceptable ways such as speaking out of turn—and this only heightens their embarrassment. Some might even experience paranoia and believe that others are talking about them.
For seniors who struggle to hear every day, the mental exhaustion can cause them to simply give up. They might eventually start skipping birthday parties, dinners, holiday gatherings, and other events where large groups of people gather in noisy settings. While this self-imposed reclusiveness may seem easier, over time it can make the person socially isolated, lonely, and depressed. They may feel like an outlier within their own families and social groups—an observer in life rather than an active participant.
Below are some other important ways in which hearing loss can influence mental health:
  • Adults with hearing loss may become anxious about missing phone calls and alarms. They may worry about mishearing what others are saying to them or feel guilty about misunderstandings.
  • The social exclusion and loneliness linked with hearing loss can predispose people to mental health concerns.
  • The brain stays active while processing sounds and speech information. When you lose some or all of your hearing, the part of your brain that performs this task may atrophy. This can cause cognitive decline, which includes symptoms such as difficulty thinking and concentrating.
  • Since hearing loss affects balance, it can cause avoidance of physical activity, which in turn may lead to depression.
  • People who hear normally often assume that speaking loudly and repeating words is an appropriate response to an older adult with deafness. However, this behavior reinforces misconceptions that seniors with hearing loss are "slow." Internalizing this notion can intensify the emotional distress of losing one’s hearing.

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