RESEARCH


DEPRESSION AND HEARING LOSS: THE LINK


Did you know that hearing loss is linked to dementia? Studies show that the same areas of the brain that are responsible for auditory processing are linked to dementia, Alzheimer's and depression, and hearing loss dramatically increases your risk of developing one of these conditions.

Dementia is a debilitating and frightening condition that is becoming increasingly common in the elderly population. Memory loss, confusion and anxiety make day-to-day life challenging and many sufferers are reliant on carers to keep them safe. Those who experience conditions such as dementia are often unable to remain in their own homes, and even in the early stages of the condition, independent living can be extremely difficult.

How Does Hearing Loss Affect Dementia?
1. The area of the brain that processes sounds and makes sense of them begins to shrink when it is used less. When hearing loss occurs, it is stimulated less frequently and decline begins.

2. As this key area of the brain shrinks and becomes less responsive, conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer's and depression become much more common. A person with mild hearing loss is twice as likely to develop dementia, and severe hearing loss increases the risk by up to five times.

3. The good news is that the damage is reversible if hearing loss is treated early. Seeking treatment, which usually involves the use of hearing aids, can increase the stimulation in the brain and cause the brain cells to re-grow!

How Untreated Hearing Loss Can Affect You:


If you have hearing loss but do not seek treatment, this can affect many areas of your life, including:

  1. Cognitive health. One of the biggest problems with leaving hearing loss untreated is that it is linked to cognitive decline and conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This is thought to be because sounds are decoded in the same area of the brain that relates to these conditions, and a lack of stimulation, when fewer sounds are heard, causes this area to shrink. The good news is that this damage is reversible if you seek help and begin to use hearing aids.
  2. Personal safety. If you are unable to hear sirens or alarms, you will, of course, be at greater risk of injury in a fire or emergency situation. It is possible to buy alarm signals that light up or vibrate to alert you to danger, but if you can keep yourself safer by wearing a hearing aid, this will bring you and your loved ones peace of mind.
  3. Social life. It can be much more difficult to communicate and to spend time in public spaces that are often very noisy if you are hard of hearing, and this can have a serious impact on your social life. Isolation is a common side effect of hearing loss, so making an appointment to see your Hearing Aid Audiologist can be very helpful.
  4. Work life. Research has shown that those with untreated hearing loss tend to earn less than their colleagues, and miss out on opportunities at work. Untreated hearing loss is also very challenging to cope with, so you may feel exhausted at work and be unable to concentrate and focus on your tasks.
  5. Speech. If you cannot hear properly, your brain cannot tell when you are forming the correct sounds when you speak. You may be unable to hear how loudly you are speaking or even find that you are speaking with a voice or accent that sounds different to you and to others. Hearing aids can help you to hear and decode the sounds around you, as well as hearing your own voice more clearly.

*Research conducted by Empathy Research December 2017