How Unmanaged Hearing Loss Leads to Mental Illness

Posted by Sasha Hodes on Aug 12, 2020 9:46:40 AM

It was a few days after setting up ChatableApps’s live-chat that I received a message from someone in the inbox:

“I was wondering if your app could help me. I’m currently in lockdown in Australia and I lost my happiness eight years ago when I lost my hearing. I’m desperate for help.” I have to say, this message made me pause that day, and has stuck with me ever since.

A severing with the hearing world, whether acute or gradual, can have significant consequences on somebody’s way of life. This is because “the ability to relate to others, share ideas, participate in activities, and experience one’s surroundings depends greatly on the capacity to hear”5 or communicate. Such a constraint can trigger a number of mental health problems.

But what exactly are these? 

Hearing Loss and Depression

Friends and family with loved ones who have hearing loss have been known to stop inviting them to social occasions due to the demands of it. This, as you can imagine, leads to rejection and a hit to self-confidence for the hearing impaired loved one - two core symptoms of clinical depression. And not feeling confident that you can deal with social occasions or any place where there is background noise, as well as feeling that no one wants to be around you as it’s too hard to hold simple conversations, makes it very easy to cut yourself off from everything altogether. The result can be eventual loneliness for the hearing impaired individual and, ultimately, depression. It is especially the case amongst the older population of the hearing impaired where there are “significant associations of self-reported hearing impairment with loneliness”1.  

Hearing Loss and Anxiety

Of course, it’s not just depression that someone with hearing loss is susceptible to. Factors that trigger anxiety disorders, such as poorer social support networks, loneliness, and traumatic events”2, are all factors that seem to appear - or are exacerbated by - hearing impairment. Not being able to hear conversation in noisy and social environments can lead someone with hearing loss to feel alien to their peers, unable to function in situations that hearing people seem to manage effortlessly, creating huge amounts of stress and anxiety on them. Some may be anxious about ever stepping into a noisy environment like a pub or restaurant, making it hard to maintain relationships and even simple day to day tasks.

Adjustment Disorder

A common problem faced by people with hearing impairment is what is known as adjustment disorder - a group of symptoms, such as stress, feeling sad or hopeless, and physical symptoms that can occur after you go through a traumatic life event. This traumatic life event can be sudden or worsening hearing loss. It can be traumatic for many knowing that they can’t hear the things they once took for granted, or the things that they loved.  For most people, normal hearing is a prerequisite to living, both personally and professionally. When this ability is hampered to a significant degree, it’s no surprise that some people fall into bouts of panic, fearing they won’t be able to cope with their new set of circumstances. It is the fear of the unknown, of the restrictions one has to put on their life, and the dangers which come with impaired hearing, that understandably results in the triggering of adjustment disorder. 

Hearing loss and Dementia

Rising life expectancies and better healthcare means the developed world is facing an ageing population. In the UK alone there are 12 million people over the age of 65. By 2030, this is set to increase with one in five people in the UK (21.8%) being aged 65 or over4. This means there will be more people facing the prospect of dementia and significant hearing loss in their lives. 

There have been a number of breakthrough studies which have shown a clear link between untreated hearing loss and accelerated cognitive decline, cognitive impairment, and incident dementia5. Dementia is brought from a multitude of contributing factors, but the one that comes up as the most significantly impactful are the subsequent situations of social isolation and difficulties communicating due to the obvious communication barriers that hearing loss brings3. Our brains require daily stimulation in order to avoid decline in cognition. One type of stimulation required is language and communication. If this stimulation suddenly stops or is hampered, after a while the part of the brain that deals with communication will start to degrade. This, in the long term, can develop dementia3.    

From good hearing to good mental health

People with hearing loss tend to avoid loud environments because the noise makes it impossible to follow conversation. This is often compounded when their hearing aid amplifies everything, including the very minutiae of a person’s sound environment. 

By allowing the brain to understand and process speech in various environments, Chatable removes barriers to communication put up by hearing loss. Using pioneering neuroscience-led AI, Chatable allows you to hear one to one conversation clearly. It boosts voice volume and removes background noise, allowing those with hearing loss to listen to their conversation effortlessly and stress-free. They will be able to reignite their social life, attend noisy events like games’ night, and continue with the social activities that gives them the much needed mental stimulation to keep up the brain’s cognition, ultimately preventing mental illness. 

Appendix:
1. Hsu, W. T., Hsu, C. C., Wen, M. H., Lin, H. C., Tsai, H. T., Su, P., … Hsu, Y. C. (2016). Increased risk of depression in patients with acquired sensory hearing loss: A 12-year follow-up study.
2. Shoham, N., Lewis, G., Favarato, G. (2019). Prevalence of anxiety disorders and symptoms in people with hearing impairment: a systematic review.
3. Liu C, Lee CT. (2019). Association of Hearing Loss With Dementia. JAMA Netw Open.
4.https://www.ageuk.org.uk/our-impact/policy-research/publications

5. Wallhagen M. I. (2010). The stigma of hearing loss. The Gerontologist, 50(1), 66–75. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnp107