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For decades we’ve accepted hearing loss—and the communication difficulties it causes—as a normal part of aging. But research suggests that losing our hearing affects more than just our conversations. If left untreated, hearing loss can be profoundly detrimental to our physical and mental well-being, reducing our quality of life as we get older.
A team of Japanese researchers has found further evidence of the adverse effects of hearing loss, finding strong links between self-reported hearing loss and memory loss, psychological distress, and social restrictions.
Hearing plays a vital role in helping us enjoy old age and keeping our brains happy and healthy, so regular hearing tests are essential.
Study finds a connection between hearing loss and cognitive, psychological issues
Japanese researchers based at the University of Tsukuba led the study, which involved 137,723 people who lived at home and were at least 65 years old. None of the participants had a dementia diagnosis. Nine percent (12,389 people) stated they had existing hearing loss.
The study’s goal was to shed light on the connection between hearing loss and a decrease in outdoor activities, self-reported memory loss, and psychological discomfort. The researchers found a clear link between hearing loss and all three areas. Of the 3, memory was the most affected by the loss of hearing.
The team published their findings in the journal Geriatrics Gerontology International.
Participants with hearing loss tended to limit their outdoor activities. 28.9% of people who stated they had hearing loss experienced outdoor limitations, compared to 9.5% of those without hearing loss.
An even higher proportion of people with hearing loss—39.7%—reported psychological distress, compared to 19.3% of those whose hearing had not changed.
The gap was the most significant in the area of memory loss. Just 5.2% of participants with regular hearing had self-reported memory loss, while 37.7% of those with hearing loss had this condition.
The study also found that self-reported hearing loss—and its social, psychological, and physical effects—increases with age. Even after researchers had adjusted their findings to account for other factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and income, the differences between people with hearing loss and people without were profound.
How Hearing Loss Affects Your Memory and Mental Health
The findings of the University of Tsukuba team are not surprising. There is a growing body of research that points to the detrimental effects of hearing loss on our minds and bodies as we age. Here are some of the most common ways hearing loss can undermine our cognitive health and mental well-being if it goes untreated.
Increased stress – Untreated hearing loss heightens stress in social situations. The frustration of being unable to equally take part in a conversation and the fear of making mistakes can cause people to isolate themselves from their friends and loved ones. The more profound a person’s hearing loss is, the higher their chances are of suffering from stress and anxiety in social settings.
Isolation and Loneliness – Hearing loss-related stress leads to withdrawal from social functions, which means increased isolation and loneliness. When separation becomes prolonged, it can lead to cognitive changes, as the brain receives less stimulation than it should. Isolation has been found to reduce brain mass, which increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Anxiety and Depression – Research shows that isolation and communication difficulties can result in mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Depression is associated with memory problems such as having trouble thinking and experiencing confusion. Long-term depression can also make it challenging to go about your daily routine or make decisions.
Hearing Aids Can Help
Hearing loss can increase your chances of developing memory loss, psychological distress, and cognitive decline. It can isolate you from the people you love and make it harder to enjoy being outdoors. Fortunately, hearing loss is treatable, and these issues can be alleviated by wearing hearing aids regularly. Hearing aids can improve your memory, reduce your stress, and make it possible to enjoy social interactions again.
The sooner you get your hearing loss treated with hearing aids, the better it will be for your brain and memory. Visit us to get your hearing tested and receive recommendations for the best hearing aids.