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Memory Loss & Psychological Distress with Hearing Loss

Peter Lucier, HIS

Hearing loss is the fourth leading cause of long-term disability worldwide, affecting approximately 466 million people or 6.1 % of the world’s total population. The chance of developing hearing loss rises as you age with 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 developing age-related hearing loss and affecting half of those over 75. 

With odds like these it is important to understand the risks of living with hearing loss and the best ways to combat the dangerous side effects. While hearing loss is serious by itself, the side effects that can be worse. These include: depression, anxiety, insomnia, social isolation, lack of independence and a higher risk of falls, accidents and hospitalizations. Now a study out of Japan has found a link between hearing loss, memory loss and psychological distress that is important to pay serious attention too.

A Survey in hearing loss,  memory loss and psychological distress

The 2019 study from Tsukuba University in Japan explored the serious implication of hearing loss on seniors, 65 years or older. The study surveyed over 130,000 seniors and found hearing loss in 9% of the study group. The survey was called “Japan’s Comprehensive Survey of Living Conditions” and collected data concerning hearing loss, psychological distress and memory loss among other things.  

The survey compared events of memory loss and psychological distress with those who had and had not sustained hearing loss. The study documented that 39.7 percent of the seniors with hearing loss also reported psychological distress in comparison to 19.3 of seniors with psychological distress and no hearing loss. Even more alarming was the prevalence of memory loss for those with hearing loss. 37.7% reported having trouble remembering who also suffered from hearing loss while only 5.2 of seniors with healthy hearing complained of memory loss.

 To put into perspective the implications of this study, a ratio of 7 to 1 seniors with hearing loss struggled with memory issues as well! 

Hearing loss and its effects on mental health and memory

This study confirms what many have suspected or experienced for years. The effects of hearing loss implicates much more than the ears. Communication through conversation is one of the most important ways that we connect as humans. 

Healthy communication helps strengthen our relationships at home and at work. When communication becomes strained, so do these relationships. This will directly affect our mental health causing loneliness, depression and self-isolation. When mental health suffers so do stress levels which can take a toll on our total physiology, including our memory. Some of the most common ways that hearing loss affects our mental well-being include:

Depression: When people struggle to secede in social situations due to hearing loss, their relationships suffer at home and at work. Often the things they love no longer bring joy, causing chronic depression. 

Increased stress: When we struggle to communicate in social situations at home and work, this can cause stress and anxiety. Stress can cause chronic changes in certain brain areas causing serious damage to our memory. An over secretion of stress hormones can impair our long-term memory.

Self-isolation: Often socializing is a point of excitement creating something to look forward to. However, when anxiety starts to overtake your social engagements, this will encourage many to avoid committing to social plans all together. When people stop engaging with other people, they become at risk for brain atrophy, thereby increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Hearing aids and their effects on psychological stress and memory loss 

The effects of hearing loss on mental health are alarming. While age related hearing loss is permanent, hearing aids have been found to make a serious difference in protecting your memory and mental well-being. 

The Tsukuba University study recommended hearing aids to fight the dangerous side effects of hearing loss.  Study co-author Yoko explains, “Hearing loss takes an enormous toll on older people in so many ways, physically and mentally, while limiting activities of daily living.”  Kobayashi continues, “Measures such as hearing aids and social support by volunteers in the community can also provide them with assistance.” 

If you are dealing with untreated hearing loss this is just one more serious reason to deal with your hearing loss today. Your mental health and memories are just too valuable to put at risk. Make an appointment for a hearing test and get ready for the rest of your life, full of healthy hearing and more happy memories.

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