May is better hearing month. It also happens to be mental health awareness month. When it comes to hearing loss, there's an important connection between hearing and your brain. We spoke with Dr. Haley Owen, an audiologist at Livingston hearing aid center to understand the link between the two.
She says people with untreated hearing loss are more susceptible to experiencing mental health concerns. This includes loneliness, isolation, cognitive decline and even dementia. Research indicates that seniors with untreated hearing loss are more likely to develop cognitive decline up to 40% faster than others. Because hearing loss happens gradually, people slowly lose touch with others and the world around them. This can lead to mental health concerns without them realizing it.
People with untreated hearing loss often feel left out of conversations, which leads to feelings of isolation. It's like listening to people speaking another language and not being able to interpret what is being said. People eventually self-isolate because it's too much work to listen. That can lead to loneliness or even depression due to low social stimulation. If we can treat the hearing loss sooner, we may be able to prevent some of these mental health concerns.
Studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness increase the risk for dementia. People with untreated hearing loss aren't getting auditory stimulation, which leads to cognitive decline. One study at Johns Hopkins looked at cognitive impairment rates over a six-year period. Those with hearing loss were 24% more likely to experience cognitive impairment versus those without hearing loss. It's also a lot more work to process speech when you have hearing loss, so it taxes the mind. This is the same reason why people with hearing loss experience balance issues. Their brain is trying to process too much at one time.
At Livingston, the patients I work with usually talk more about ways they feel insecure due to their hearing loss. I've heard things like, "Hearing loss makes me feel like I'm uneducated or I'm a burden to my family because they always have to repeat things around me." It's not mentally healthy to always feel like you're a burden. Talk about these concerns with your audiologist. If you have a family member with you during your visit, it can help them better understand what you are going through.