Picture this: You’re at a party, and you’re running into all kinds of people you haven’t seen in ages. However, you can’t hear what these folks are saying over the music and surrounding chatter. You keep trying to hear them, but after enough times saying “What?” or asking people to speak louder, you give up. You head home from the party early while feeling frustrated and upset, and you worry this all will happen again at the next party. So why even go?
This example shows how hearing loss can push people toward the social isolation associated with depression. This clinical disorder describes such an intense loss in one’s usual favorite activities that they experience significant impairment in their everyday life. Several studies have also correlated it with hearing loss. This correlation may seem scary, but think of it like this: Protecting your hearing means protecting your mental health.
Several studies have identified a potential correlation, though not quite a cause-and-effect relationship, between hearing loss and depression:
A 2014 study of 18,000 adults reported in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery found that nearly twice as many people with hearing loss reported depression than those with unaltered hearing. This study is perhaps the most comprehensive to date on the correlation between hearing loss and depression.
The JAMA study found that the correlation between hearing loss and depression was stronger for those under 70 years old and women of all ages. The study suggested that the correlation is stronger for women since, after age 65, they lose hearing at higher sound frequencies than men. When hearing at these higher frequencies is lost, it becomes more difficult to distinguish environmental noise from the conversation directly in front of you.
The study also found that more severe hearing loss was correlated with more severe depression. Researchers took additional steps to account for other conditions sometimes associated with hearing loss, such as vision loss[LK1] , and found that their findings remained unchanged.
Prior to the above JAMA study, a smaller 2009 Ear and Hearingstudy came to similar conclusions. The study, which surveyed 1,511 participants, found that for every 1 decibel (dB) by which a person’s signal-to-noise decreases, their likelihood of depression increased by five percent. In simpler terms, the more loudly a person with hearing loss must ask a person to speak in noisy environments, the more likely they are to develop depression.
Most recently, in 2019, a peer-reviewed study reported in the open-access journal Dovepressfound that one in five people with hearing loss also has clinical depression symptoms. This study cited another study reported in Medicine in 2016, in which those with hearing loss experienced higher rates of depression over a 12-year period.
The Medicine study agreed with the JAMA study that the correlation between hearing loss and depression weakens after age 70. Nevertheless, the above studies all provide ample reason to protect your hearing now – and, by extension, your long-term mental health.
Many, if not most, people will experience a small amount of hearing loss over time. Keeping that amount as small as possible through hearing protection can be key to warding off depression. You can preserve your hearing through the following methods:
- Protective devices. Earplugs work great when you’re at a concert or event and the music is so loud it’s literally hurting your ears. For work with power tools and other loud devices, high-quality soundproof earmuffs are necessary. Alternatively, you can consult the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Buy Quiet list to find less noisy equipment.
- Lower volume levels. Yes, it’s nice to hear your favorite songs in full detail, but high volume levels can damage your ear canal’s hair cells. This damage is a primary cause of hearing loss, so keep the volume down when you’re listening to music or watching TV. This lower volume is important when using speakers and absolutely crucial when using headphones.
- Breaks. The easiest way to protect your hearing is to simply remove yourself from environments with loud sounds. That means taking breaks when you’re working with power tools. It can also mean stepping outside for a few minutes at the club or during a concert. If you’re left with muffled hearing or ringing ears after loud noise exposure, you should spend 12 to 16 hours avoiding sounds louder than conversation.
If you’re concerned about how your hearing can affect your mental health, there’s never a bad time to schedule a hearing test with an audiologist. Hearing tests are painless and non-invasive, not to mention brief and easy. All you’ll do is listen to speech or sound, then follow your audiologist’s instructions on how to respond. You’ll see your results on an audiogram, which shows the degree of hearing loss you may or may not have.
If your test uncovers hearing loss, your audiologist will recommend hearing aids. These devices restore your hearing to its former levels more than any other method available. No, they can’t cure or reverse hearing loss – nothing can – but they come closer than anything else. Plus, here at I Love Hearing, we’re experts in hearing aid use and pairing those with hearing loss to the devices best for them.
Whether you’re acting early to preserve your mental health or have already noticed your hearing declining, I Love Hearing is here to help you hear. Our hearing exams and hearing aids can be part of your treatment and prevention plans, and you can get both at our four Long Island locations.
Our audiologists are happy to conduct hearing tests for people of all ages. If we observe hearing loss, we’ll work with you to develop a treatment plan you can follow without issue. Plus, if you book an appointment for yourself and bring someone with you, that person gets a free hearing test too!
Contact I Love Hearing now to protect your hearing today and your mental health in the long run. Aging into depression can seem worrisome, but with our help, you’ll hear the world in all its glory and experience its joys through even your oldest years. Schedule your appointment today.