Silent battle with hearing loss ups depression risk

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Researchers have suggested that silently battling with hearing loss without seeking help could strain a person to the extent that they can suffer from depression.

The findings of a study involving 2,304 people with hearing loss and their risk of depression were presented at the American Psychological Association’s 123rd Annual Convention. Researchers suggested that people with hearing loss who didn’t wear hearing aids were 50 per cent more likely to suffer from sadness or even depression in worst case scenarios.

The study found that despite evidence that hearing aid technology can significantly lessen depression and anxiety and improve cognitive functioning, those with hearing loss are being left under treated.

“Many hard of hearing people battle silently with their invisible hearing difficulties, straining to stay connected to the world around them, reluctant to seek help,” said David Myers, PhD, a psychology professor and textbook writer at Hope College in Michigan who lives with hearing loss.

It was also revealed during the presentation that those who use hearing aid were much more likely to participate in social activities regularly.

Myers, who himself suffered from a genetic condition that resulted into a decline in hearing, did not get his hearing aid until he was in his 40s. Like many hard of hearing people, he resisted hearing technology.

According to previous studies, people with hearing loss wait an average of six years from the first signs before getting treatment. Further, adults with hearing loss between the ages of 20 and 69 are half as likely as adults 70 or older to use hearing aids, Myers said.

Beyond denial, vanity and less awareness of how much they are missing are some of the other reasons for the delay in going for hearing aids.

Myers also said that people hard of hearing may show signs of anger, frustration, depression and anxiety and if people use latest hearing aids, they can not only fend off these emotions, they can also regain control of their life, and even better cognitive functioning.

Researchers also suggested that hearing loss could also be a risk factor for dementia. According to a study cited by Myers published in the Archives of Neurology, years of sensory loss leaves people more susceptible to dementia. Additionally, the social isolation common among the hard of hearing is another known risk factor for dementia and other cognitive disorders, he said.

One of the technologies that could be of immense help to people with hearing loss is called hearing loop. According to Myers, this technology can be likened to Wi-Fi for hearing aids and it transmits sound signals directly into an in-ear hearing aid or cochlear implant, where it is received by an inductive device called a telecoil.

Efforts over the last dozen years to have hearing loops installed in public places around the U.S. have gained momentum in recent years with new American manufacturers stepping up to design and market hearing loop amplifiers for a wide variety of installations, from home TV rooms and taxis to auditoriums and airports, Myers said.

The loop system, which enables hearing aids to serve as wireless speakers, is popular in Great Britain and Scandinavia but less widespread in the U.S. Proponents of the system say it works especially well in public spaces with background noise or reverberant sound, such as train stations and places of worship.

Myers’ hearing loop advocacy has contributed to more than 500 hearing loop installations in Michigan. He has also supported Hearing Loss Association of America efforts to advocate for hundreds of installations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, Utah, Washington state and even in New York City taxicabs, as well as the chambers of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court.

“Making public spaces directly hearing aid accessible is psychologically important for people with hearing loss,” Myers said.