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The link between hearing loss and depression

hearing depression
hearing depression

Adam Beckman

Past President of the British Academy of Audiology

Hearing loss is a communication disorder, not an isolated physical problem. To improve care, we need to change the way we think about the condition.

It’s important we think of hearing loss, not just as a condition that affects the ears, but rather the whole person. Hearing loss is essentially a communication disorder that has implications on every aspect of an individual’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

More than 11% of those with hearing loss also had depression, as opposed to only 5% in the general population.*

Of course, hearing loss is a natural part of the ageing process and, generally speaking, rates of loss double with each decade. But there are other contributing factors: noise exposure, illness, infection, stroke, diabetes and smoking can all contribute to a loss of hearing.

Protecting ourselves

In 2005 the Control of Noise at Work Regulations were updated to protect those working within heavy industry, but the legislation doesn’t stretch to leisure activities. Those who regularly go to clubs, concerts or listen to music through headphones could be putting themselves at risk.

Manufacturers of smartphones and other personal devices have built in systems to notify listeners when their volume is excessively high – but there is more that can be done to warn the public of the risks and encourage them to take action.

Hearing screening

The problem is that many people who suffer from gradual hearing loss self-manage the situation by withdrawing from situations where they find it hard to hear. They may stop socialising, or may even stop work and, because of an isolated lifestyle, are at greater risk of depression and cognitive decline.

People feel isolated with hearing loss, and may stop socialising or even going to work

There is certainly more we can all do to mitigate these risks. Simply being aware of changes in our own hearing is a good step in the right direction; anyone who is concerned shouldn’t think twice about seeking professional advice. However, optimum results would see hearing screening as part of standard health check provided for adults when they are between 60 and 70 years of age.

For parents who might have noticed a change in their child’s behaviour and be concerned about their hearing, school nursing teams are well positioned to respond and advise.

Technological advances

While most hearing loss is irreversible, technology on the market has come a long way in the last 10 to 20 years. The once dubbed ‘whistling’ hearing aid that has undergone ridicule in popular culture, has now – virtually – become a thing of the past. Modern devices are much more sophisticated, with better sound quality, a reduction in background noise and even the ability to connect with other devices such as phones, TV and tablets to give the users the very best sound quality.

The next generation of hearing aids will be even more intuitive, but as technology continues to develop we all need to take a more progressive view to the way we take care of our hearing and, as a result, our overall wellbeing.

*Source: Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

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