Link between Depression and Untreated Hearing Loss Highlighted by BHI during
Mental Illness Awareness Week
Washington, DC, September 13, 2011 — The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) announced today that in recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 2-8); National Depression Screening Day (October 6); and World Mental Health Day (October 10), it is educating the public on the link between hearing loss and depression.
A growing body of research indicates that people with untreated hearing loss may be at an increased risk of depression. Studies also show that when these individuals use hearing aids, they experience significant improvements in quality of life and decreased depressive symptoms; have significantly higher self-concepts compared to individuals with hearing loss who do not wear hearing aids; and experience significant improvement in their functional health status.
“When left unaddressed, hearing loss can lead to isolation and other emotional conditions that can affect both qualify of life and mental health,” says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, BHI’s Executive Director. “BHI therefore is encouraging people to take a free, quick, and confidential online hearing test at www.hearingcheck.org to determine if they need a comprehensive hearing check by a hearing professional.”
Depression is a serious, common, and complex illness that affects an estimated 121 million people worldwide, according to the World Federation for Mental Health. In the United States alone, major depression affects 15 million American adults, or approximately 5 to 8 percent of the adult population in a given year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports. What’s more, depression frequently co-occurs with a variety of other physical illnesses.
The link between unaddressed hearing loss and depression is compelling. For example, a large-scale study by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) found that people 50 and older with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety, anger and frustration, emotional instability and paranoia, and were less likely to participate in organized social activities than those who wore hearing aids. The degree of depression and other emotional or mental health issues also increased with the severity of hearing loss.
An Italian study, published in Acta Otorhinolaryngologica Italica, involved working adults aged 35 to 55 who were affected by mild to moderate hearing loss in both ears. In this study, those with hearing loss reported higher levels of disability and psychological distress—and lower levels of social functioning—than a well-matched normal control population. The hearing-impaired individuals experienced reduced ordinary social activities, increased relational problems with family and friends, and greater emotional difficulties at work. They also showed higher levels of anxiety, depression, phobic anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity, and hostility.
Another survey, released by Australian Hearing, also found that people who suffer from hearing loss may be at increased risk of developing the debilitating effects of depression. The survey found that 60 per cent of those with hearing loss had displayed symptoms associated with depression. And almost 20 per cent demonstrated at least three key symptoms of depression. Specifically, 52 per cent had displayed increased irritability and frustration; 22 per cent had trouble sleeping or experienced restlessness; and 18 per cent showed a loss of interest or pleasure in most activities.
The good news is that research also indicates that hearing aids can help. A study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics examined the effects of hearing aids on cognitive function and depressive signs in people 65 and older. Researchers found that after three months of using a hearing aid, all patients showed significant improvement in their psychosocial and cognitive conditions.
What’s more, in a recently published study, BHI examined the impact of hearing aids on specific quality of life factors that affect mental and emotional well-being. More than half of the 1,800 hearing aid owners surveyed said they attributed their use of hearing aids to improvements in their relationships at home, their ability to join in groups, and their social life. Close to half said they saw improvements in their self confidence, sense of safety, feelings about themselves, and sense of independence, while one third indicated their mental and emotional life improved.
“By raising awareness of the connection between untreated hearing loss and depression, we hope to make a difference in people’s lives and to mobilize individuals to address their hearing loss,” says Kochkin.
“Mental Illness Awareness Week, National Depression Screening Day, and World Mental Health Day together make October the ideal time for raising awareness of the inter-relatedness of physical and mental health,” Kochkin continues. “We are duly reminded that staying well entails both body and mind; and that as a society, we must address both by better integrating our overall approach to healthcare and keeping people well.”
Founded in 1973, BHI conducts research and engages in hearing health education with the goal of helping people with hearing loss benefit from proper treatment. For more information on hearing loss, visit www.betterhearing.org. To take the BHI Quick Hearing Check, visit at www.hearingcheck.org. For a copy of “Your Guide to Buying Hearing Aids,” visit www.betterhearing.org within the "Hearing Loss Treatments" section under hearing aids.