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Hearing Loss and Depression

By Dr. Carol Meyers
Living with hearing loss means a lot more than just not being able to hear as well as you once did. It turns socializing into a chore, simple conversations into misunderstandings, and formerly enjoyable events into activities you would rather avoid. The more you withdraw from life the greater your susceptibility to developing depression.

Depression is more than just feeling down due to a specific loss or other negative experience. It is a mood disorder that causes loss of interest in your life and persistent sadness. It affects all areas of your life — career, hobbies, interactions with family and friends — and saps your ability to participate and find joy in any of them.

Depression can lead to serious physical and emotional symptoms, including:
• Frustration and irritability
• Sleep disturbances (insomnia or constant sleeping)
• Lethargy
• Excessive weight gain or weight loss
• Anxiety and panic attacks
• Suicidal thoughts
• Headaches and backaches with no other physical cause

Clinical depression is not something you can just “shake off” or get over without treatment. Psychological intervention, often complemented by medication, can help. But the best treatment for depression is not developing it in the first place. In cases where there is a discoverable root cause, uncovering this depression “trigger” can keep depression from developing in the first place.

THE ROLE OF HEARING LOSS IN DEPRESSION

A major study was conducted in the late 1990s by The National Council on Aging (NCOA). The results showed adults age 50 and older with untreated hearing loss were more likely to experience depression and less likely to participate in organized social activities, as compared to those who had hearing loss but wore hearing aids.

Another, more recent study found that women and adults under the age of 70 were particularly prone to depression if they had untreated hearing loss. Results showed study subjects with hearing loss were more than twice as likely to have depression as those with normal hearing. Though the specific reasons still need to be determined, researchers point to the following as likely reasons:

• Being unable to hear in social situations involving a lot of background noise (loud restaurants, parties) causes feelings of social anxiety and a sense of being alone in a crowd
• Being unable to hold up your end of the conversation leads to friends and family talking around you rather than to you, increasing the sense of not belonging
• Misunderstandings due to not hearing some words or hearing them incorrectly causes embarrassment and hurt feelings
• Not being able to keep up with meetings, directions from managers, or the general fast pace of a workplace damages self-esteem

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