May: A Month Advocating for Better Hearing and Mental Health

By Michele Michaels

More than 1 million people in Arizona and more than 48 million people nationwide experience some form of hearing loss, and according to American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the number of Americans with hearing loss has doubled over the past 30 years. This month, Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM) serves as an important reminder of the significance hearing loss treatment plays not only in our hearing health, but in our mental health as well.

May is also Mental Health Month. These two causes have more in common than just sharing the same month. Recent research shows that a person’s mental health can be affected by untreated hearing loss. According to Dr. Samuel Trychin, a psychologist and mental health and rehabilitation advisor for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), hearing loss can result in a variety of additional mental health complaints.

Dealing with any type of loss is a major issue when providing mental health services to people. Individuals who are hard of hearing or late-deafened experience a profound sense of loss and isolation. Dr. Trychin believes that this underlying sense of loss may be related to the feeling of “no longer being the person I once was.”

Scientific studies have also begun to produce evidence that links depression, increased cognitive decline and social isolation to untreated hearing loss.

Hearing Loss and Depression

According to American Academy of Audiology, the National Council of Aging (NCOA) studied 2,300 people, 50 and older, with hearing loss and found that those with untreated hearing loss were more likely to report depression, anxiety and paranoia. They were also less likely to participate in organized social activities compared to those who wear hearing aids. Previous studies back these findings up; a 2014 study in the Journal of American Medicine and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery also linked hearing loss to an increased rise in depression.

Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

A fact that is not widely taken into consideration is that we “hear” with our brains and not with our ears. Studies from the Johns Hopkins University have found links between hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia. In one study involving 2,000 men and women between the ages of 75 and 84, it was found that over a period of six years, cognitive abilities of those with hearing loss declined 30 to 40 percent faster than in people with normal hearing. In a second study involving 600 adults, it was found that those with hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia than adults without a hearing loss.

Hearing Loss and Social Isolation

Social isolation is already a prevalent problem among seniors and is one that is exacerbated by hearing loss. In the same survey conducted by the NCOA regarding depression among those who are hard of hearing, it was found people who don’t wear hearing aids are considerably less likely to participate in social activities. From the people who were surveyed, 42 percent of hearing aid users participate regularly in social activities whereas just 32 percent of non-users do.

There is more at risk to leaving your hearing loss untreated than you may have realized. Those who do seek treatment report significant improvements in many areas of their lives, ranging from personal relationships and a sense of independence to their social and sex lives.

So this month, seek out the organizations that can help you understand the importance of hearing health and the services that are available to you, like Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Arizona Relay Service or your local HLAA chapter, for there is more at stake than just your hearing.

For more information about ACDHH, visit http://www.acdhh.org/.

About the author: Michele Michaels, B.A., CPM, is the hard of hearing specialist at the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. Michaels provides outreach, education, training, resources, information, and referrals to Arizonans. As a person with a hearing loss and the daughter of a parent who progressively lost her hearing, Michaels understands the challenges and opportunities inherent in hearing loss.  She began working in the field of hearing loss in 1993.

About the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing

Established in 1977 to improve the quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing residents,   ACDHH serves as a statewide information referral center for issues related to people with hearing loss and aspires to be a national leader in communication access, support services and community empowerment throughout the state. The purpose of the organization, and its commissioners, is to ensure, in partnership with the public and private sector, accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing to improve their quality of life.

By Michele Michaels, hard of hearing specialist, Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing

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