A Norwegian Institute of Public Health study of more than 50,000 subjects ages 20 to 101 showed significant associations between hearing loss and mental health.
The links appeared to be stronger for younger and middle-aged adults than for older adults, suggesting that the functional loss from hearing decline may be more psychologically challenging for a younger person.
A 2014 study published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery
indicated an association between hearing decline and depression.
Scientists reviewed data from a large survey of more than 18,000 adults age 18 and older, and found that as hearing decline worsened, so did symptoms of depression — though the cause-and-effect relationship was unclear.
Depression is a common emotional response to any kind of loss. It can interfere with a person’s work and social life and lead to further mood alterations such as anger, anxiety, and self-reproach.
These psychological reactions can trigger biochemical alterations in the brain, including diminished neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine.
Many antidepressant medications increase the effectiveness of these neurotransmitters. Hearing loss not only increases risk for mood changes, but cognitive decline as well. Dr. Frank Lin and his colleagues at the University of California in San Francisco recently studied whether hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults.
The scientists followed nearly 2,000 volunteers with an average age of 77 for six years, and found that the subjects who experienced hearing loss at the beginning of the study had significantly higher rates of cognitive decline than those who maintained normal hearing.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University found that hearing loss is associated with accelerated brain shrinkage as people age. For nearly a decade, the investigators performed MRI brain scans on 126 participants ages 56 to 86, and found that subjects with impaired hearing at the start of the study showed faster rates of brain atrophy.
Brain regions in the temporal lobe that control memory and other cognitive functions were especially affected.
When people have trouble hearing, it impairs their memories because they cannot retain new information they didn’t hear in the first place. Many people with hearing problems withdraw from social interactions, and such isolation can negatively affect mood.
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