Unless you’ve ever dealt with hearing loss, you might not realise just how it can affect almost every aspect of your life. Sadly, according to the National Council on Aging, at least one in every three seniors will develop loss of hearing to some extent and that will have an impact on their quality of life.
Have you noticed that a loved one seems to be having difficulty hearing? Perhaps you’ve noticed they are continually turning the television up louder, seemingly ignoring you when you speak to them, and another handful of signs indicate their hearing isn’t what it once was. If this sounds like something you are experiencing, you should know that it will also affect their mental health.
Start with a quick and easy home test
Before looking at how hearing loss affects their mental health, one of the things you can easily do from home is quick and easy. You can load up the computer and have them take a free hearing online test. Although audiology online testing can’t tell you exactly what kind of hearing loss they are suffering, it can indicate that it’s time to consult with an audiologist.
The purpose of getting a more advanced diagnosis is because there are so many ways in which someone can be experiencing difficulty in hearing. Every hearing aid is tailored to the person and their specific needs, so this is a vital step in helping them recover some of that most important sense – the sense of hearing. Have you ever wondered how the loss of just one of your senses could have such a profound impact on your mental health? Unfortunately, it can.
Living in isolation
Very few seniors actually choose to isolate themselves from the people around them but when they can’t understand a word of what is being said, they often have no alternative but to revert back to themselves. Can you imagine just how difficult it would be to socialize with the people you love if you can’t even carry on a simple conversation with them? You either end up shouting back and forth or simply retreating to your room to watch television so that you can turn the volume up to a comfortable level for you. Unfortunately, that might be several decibels too loud for anyone in adjoining rooms. How lonely must it be to live like that?
A quick look at how hearing loss affects the brain
Feeling isolated from those around you can quickly lead to depression. Also, feeling socially excluded is proven to lead some people with a predisposition to schizophrenia. The current thinking here is that hearing loss is linked to an increased sensitivity to dopamine – the feel-good hormone.
Seniors with hearing impairment may also become increasingly anxious about not hearing the doorbell or missing alarms for medication reminders. They often feel guilty about not being able to hear what is being said to them, which often leads to misunderstandings.
So how then does hearing loss really affect the brain? Think about it this way. When someone is immobile in bed, their body can quickly atrophy if not manually turned periodically so the blood doesn’t settle in one place. This is the same as how the brain processes sound. If the brain is suddenly not asked to process sounds because they cannot be heard, it too can atrophy.
This can lead to difficulties in concentrating and thinking. How often do we simply write that off as dementia? Regrettably, this probably happens far too often. Perhaps the cognitive decline isn’t the result of dementia but rather due to a brain that has atrophied.
Also, hearing loss can affect balance, so seniors tend to avoid most types of physical activity. They are afraid of falling and rightfully so. It is altogether too easy for seniors to break brittle bones that have aged, so instead, they just stay immobile, trying to hear their favourite shows.
Our response matters
Another unfortunate aspect of trying to communicate with hearing-impaired seniors is that we find ourselves shouting to be heard. It is assumed that speaking louder and perhaps repeating ourselves is the appropriate response. Unfortunately, this can lead to the misconception that seniors experiencing hearing loss have become slow in their thinking. This is not the case at all. By communicating like this, we are intensifying their distress.
In the end, experiencing hearing loss is like experiencing any other loss in our lives. We tend to grieve and we know that grief is often expressed in anger. Could this be why so many seniors tend to be a bit grumpy? Perhaps this is actually what is going on with them.
Since hearing loss can have such a devastating impact on seniors, our response truly does matter. Isn’t it better to get to the root of the problem? If you notice any of the signs that point to your loved one experiencing some form of hearing loss, it is up to you to help them recover that which they’ve lost.
Robert Haynes did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health and well-being.