What Is the Relationship Between Hearing Loss and Dementia and Mental Health?

Hearing Loss and Dementia

Do you find yourself asking “What?” throughout the day because you can’t make out what people are saying? Hearing loss can be very frustrating, but it can also have significant emotional and mental health consequences, including depression, anxiety, anger, and loneliness. Even more concerning is the fact that a growing body of research shows that hearing loss comes with increased risks for cognitive decline and dementia.

 

Hearing loss can be frustrating, but it can have significant mental health consequences, including depression, anxiety, anger, and loneliness. Even more concerning, it comes with increased risks for cognitive decline and dementia. Click To Tweet

That’s bad news for the 2% of 45- to 54-year-olds, 8.5% of 55- to 64-year-olds, 25% of people ages 65 to 74, and 50% of adults ages 75 and older who experience hearing loss that is disabling, according to the latest statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. How does hearing loss impact mental health and cognitive function?

HEARING LOSS, DEMENTIA, AND THE BRAIN

Years of scientific evidence point to a connection between hearing loss, cognitive decline, and brain function. In a 2011 study, hearing experts at Johns Hopkins followed 639 people for approximately 12 years. The researchers found that people with severe hearing loss are 5 times more likely to develop dementia than those with healthy hearing. In people with moderate hearing loss, the risk for dementia was tripled. Among those with mild impairment, dementia was twice as likely to develop.

Additional findings from the Johns Hopkins team show that cognitive decline occurs more quickly in those with hearing loss. In their 2013 paper in JAMA Internal Medicine, adults with hearing loss experienced cognitive decline 30-40% faster than those with healthy hearing.

Neuroimaging studies show that hearing impairment shrinks the brain. A 2014 study in Neuroimage revealed decreased overall brain volume in older adults who were hard of hearing. Reductions in volume were also found in specific brain regions, including the right temporal lobe. The temporal lobes are involved in hearing and understanding language, as well as memory, moods, and learning. More brain imaging research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms at work in hearing loss and its associated mental health symptoms and cognitive decline.

HEARING IMPAIRMENT, MENTAL HEALTH, AND COGNITIVE DECLINE

Hearing experts have also noted an increased risk for emotional and mental health issues among those with hearing problems, including tinnitus, which is a ringing in the ears. The following common psychological conditions seen in people who have trouble hearing are also linked to increased risk of cognitive decline.

Depression

It’s understandable that losing your hearing can make you feel sad and blue. People who aren’t able to make out what others are saying miss out on so much. At family gatherings or holiday celebrations, grandma may feel left out of all the fun because she can’t follow the conversation. A wealth of research points to a connection between hearing impairment and depression. According to a 2014 study, 19% of adults with hearing loss experience mild symptoms of depression while more than 11% struggle with moderate to severe depressive symptoms. Other research from 2019 shows that as many as 1 in 5 older adults with hearing problems experience symptoms of clinical depression. Having depression later in life is also linked to a 70% increased risk for dementia, according to findings in Archives of General Psychiatry.

Stress and anxiety

Losing your hearing can provoke a flood of stressful and anxious thoughts: Will I lose my job if I can’t follow critical conversations at work? What if I can’t hear my phone and I miss an important call? What if I don’t hear the smoke alarm, and I die in a fire? Will I become completely deaf? Anxiety tends to increase as hearing loss worsens. On the flip side, a 2018 study demonstrates that stress has been associated with the onset of ringing in the ears and the worsening of tinnitus. And research in BMJ Open has also tagged anxiety as a risk factor for dementia.

Anger

Irritability and frustration are common in people with hearing difficulties as well as in their loved ones. Not being able to hear what someone is saying can lead to misunderstandings and may trigger angry outbursts that negatively impact relationships. How you view your hearing loss also plays a role in your emotional well-being. For example, perceiving hearing loss as a disability is linked to feeling angry, according to a study in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders. In addition, research in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease notes that anger is associated with risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing dementia.

Loneliness

When you’re struggling with hearing loss, you may find yourself retreating from your friends and family. The embarrassment of having to ask people to repeat themselves may make you shy away from social gatherings. This is backed by decades of science showing that hearing loss is associated with social isolation and loneliness, especially among women. This can feed a downward spiral of depression, anxiety, or anger and contribute to cognitive decline. A 2020 study shows that loneliness is linked to a 40% increase in the risk for dementia.

COPING WITH HEARING LOSS AND RELATED SYMPTOMS

When hearing starts to fade, it’s important to address the issue rather than ignore it or hope it will go away. The condition tends to be progressive and untreated hearing loss is associated with increased risk for mental health problems and cognitive decline. If you do struggle with such issues, don’t hesitate to seek help. Learning to cope with the feelings you’re experiencing is just as critical as getting help for your hearing.

Cognitive decline, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues associated with hearing loss can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

9 Comments

  1. Yes. Hearing loss is a significant health issue. Why, pray tell, is hearing aids not covered by health insurance/Medicare?

    Comment by Fran Smith — August 23, 2021 @ 6:41 AM

  2. How about misophonia? I was recently diagnosed with this hearing problem. Can the Amen Clinics help with this type of disorder?

    Comment by Margaret — August 23, 2021 @ 9:30 AM

  3. I lost most of my hearing 6 yrs ago. Hearing aids only provide a certain amount of helpful hearing. I suffer from all of the symptoms stated.

    Comment by Mary Boyd — August 23, 2021 @ 9:57 AM

  4. What connection are you making between hearing and dementia? The implication is that hearing loss is causative, however, dementia is known to develop over decades, usually 20 years or more, which seems much longer than it takes for hearing decline.

    Comment by Francesca Brady — August 23, 2021 @ 1:40 PM

  5. What if the person wears hearing aids? Does this slow the cognitive decline and related issues??

    Comment by Susan — August 23, 2021 @ 2:10 PM

  6. I’d like to make an appt. at closest

    Comment by Betty Jo Paroli — August 23, 2021 @ 5:29 PM

  7. I have tinnitus and depression. Is there a supplement I can take to help with either of these that would help slow or eliminate cognitive decline?

    Comment by Debbie — August 23, 2021 @ 7:21 PM

  8. Hello Debbie. Dr. Daniel Amen has his own supplement brand that we recommend which you can find at brainmd.com

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 25, 2021 @ 9:04 AM

  9. Hello Betty Jo, thank you for reaching out. Amen Clinics currently has 9 locations: https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/. For more information about scheduling, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 25, 2021 @ 9:06 AM

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