Humans lose hair, sight, teeth, and muscles with age. Hearing is not any different. There are many reasons people lose their hearing ability as they age. Normal wear and tear are one of the reasons people’s hearing abilities decrease with age, damaging, breaking, and wearing out of hair cells. Sometimes the cells just die. The fewer the cells one has, the more the sound is needed to trigger the electrical signals transmitting vibrations to the brain for interpretation. Tear to the hair cells and the cochlea could be caused by exposure to damaging sound levels and injuries to the cochlea by foreign materials such as earbuds. Some scholars have studied the effects of hearing problems on the elderly. It is suggested that there is a link between hearing loss and more significant risks of depression, anxiety, hostility, and interpersonal sensitivity. There is evidence linking hearing loss with difficulties relating to family and friends, and more significant risks of emotional problems.
Since the current research suggests that presbycusis causes various emotional and psychological complications, an intervention needs to be developed to address hearing loss from a psychological perspective.
Early Onset of Hearing Loss
Impaired hearing is a disease affecting a quarter of the elderly population in the U.S. The condition progresses slowly from a less-critical state to a point where one loses the ability to hear completely. People as young as 55 could begin experiencing hearing loss. Various conditions could cause early onset of hearing loss, including otosclerosis, traumatic brain injury, acoustic neuroma, noise-induced trauma, and autoimmune inner ear disease. (Hearing loss, 2021).
According to Caposseco et al. (2012), hearing loss signs include struggling to hear consonants, speech muffling, and trouble understanding what one is saying in a crowded situation or against music or noise in the background. Caposecco et al. argued that asking others to reduce the speed of their speeches and speak more loudly or slowly are potential indicators of hearing loss. Reluctance to engage in conversations, fear of social settings, or the need to raise the television or radio volume when everybody has no trouble hearing could be additional indicators of hearing loss.
Psychological Impacts of Hearing Loss Among the Elderly
Ameiva et al. (date) conducted a prospective community-based study to probe the connection between self-reported hearing problems and dementia. In this 25-year-long longitudinal study with over a thousand participants, dementia was typified by loss of thinking and problem-solving abilities, as well as language and memory loss. The findings indicated that there was a greater risk of dementia among the sample population with hearing problems. The study reaffirmed the negative effects of hearing loss among the older adults, a finding stressing the importance of finding a solution to slow down presbycusis and/or the emotionality among these vulnerable populations.
Hearing loss accelerates cognitive impairment and declines among older adults (Frank et al.,2013). Frank et al. performed an observational study over ten years to validate whether hearing loss is associated with a quicker cognitive decline than in adults with no hearing deficits. The study revealed that 41% and 32% of the 1162 respondents suffered incident cognitive impairment and cognitive decline, respectively. The study authenticated that incident mental impairment risks and cognitive decline risks are indicators of baseline hearing loss among older adults. Frank et al. called for more research to validate the mechanical background of the relationship. Moreover, the scholars appealed to researchers to investigate whether hearing aids and rehabilitation influenced cognitive decline.
Sarant et al. (2020) offered a solution for loss of cognitive function among older adults with hearing impairments. Sarant et al. suggested that hearing aid use could reverse the harmful effects of hearing loss on cognition, delay cognitive decline, and perhaps improve awareness among the elderly. However, Sarant et al. warned that their study’s sample size was small, possibly comprising their findings’ quality. As a result, the scholars urged other scientists to investigate the effects of hearing aids on cognitive decline among older adults.
Anxiety and Hearing Loss
Impaired hearing is one of the causes of increased anxiety among older adults (Contrera et al. 2016). Contrera et al. adopted a cross-sectional survey to authenticate the relationship between anxiety and hearing impairment among older adults. Adults between the ages 76 and 85 were studied for anxiety symptoms. The researchers defined anxiety as experiencing two symptoms of at least ‘a little’ anxiety or one sign reflecting quite a bit of stress on the three-item Hopkins Symptom Checklist.
Contrera et al. found that individuals with hearing challenges among the 1,732 participants reported more anxiety symptoms than their counterparts with normal hearing. The researchers further indicated that hearing aid use alleviated respondents’ propensity to suffer anxiety symptoms, a move that isolates hearing loss as anxiety prevalence’s independent contributor.
Depression and Hearing Loss
Presbycusis is associated with more significant depression risks among the elderly (Lawrence et al. 2020). Lawrence et al. studied whether depression was an indicator of hearing loss in older adults. They performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of gray literature and information in various scholarly databases. Thirty-five articles met the eligibility criteria for inclusion. Overall, the articles indicated that depression was more prevalent among older adults with presbycusis. Lawrence et al. further asserted that participant characteristics did not influence the results. However, the researchers warned that the results must be interpreted carefully since the overall effect was marginal.
Ameiva et al. (2018) echoed Lawrence et al.’s findings. Notably, the authors argued that men who reported hearing complications suffered heightened risks of depression.
Social Isolation and Hearing Loss
The severity of social withdrawal intensifies with the severity of hearing loss (Lin et al. 2013). While the researchers focused on the impacts of hearing loss on cognitive decline, they also shed some light on impaired hearing’s effect on social isolation. The authors’ rationale for impaired hearing causes isolation is that people with hearing challenges struggle to follow a conversation. Eventually, people with hearing loss tire, sit back, or maybe even doze off. Lin et al. argued that hearing aids for older adults should be used to prevent them from plummeting into sad statuses. While hearing impairment is a challenge, Lin et al. assert that it must never condemn the older adults into eternal misery as something could be done about it.
Disability and Death and Hearing Loss
Ameiva et al. (2018) also explored the relationship between hearing loss and disability and death among people in the latter stages of their lives. Ameiva et al. found that hearing loss negatively affects the quality of life, predisposes older adults to increased disability risks, and increases the odds of experiencing falls. Overall, the factors contribute to older adults with hearing problems having a shorter lifespan than their counterparts with normal hearing abilities. Conversely, there was no connection between older adults wearing hearing aids and increased odds of disability and death. The researchers came up with solutions that could be used to improve or prolong older adults’ quality of life.
Hearing loss should not condemn older people to an eternity of misery and suffering because hearing can usually be restored. The technology could recreate perfect replacements damaged by aging, accidents, disease, or loud noise and restore hearing ability among the elderly. Sometimes the solution is simple and involves educating older adults to regularly check their ear canals for wax or foreign bodies. These substances block the ear canal, thereby silencing the amount of sound reaching the eardrum. While important, the reality is that only on a few occasions does ear canal blockage cause impaired hearing in older adults (Chuen et al., 2019).
Hearing therapy has been proven to work in restoring hearing abilities. For example, the approach could include someone reading an unfamiliar topic out loud from a magazine or a book. The patient then repeats what has been said word-for-word (Géléoc & Holt, 2014). The exercise is then repeated several times, including in noisier locations as the rehabilitation progresses.
While hearing loss is inevitable during the older ages, one should strive to avoid it when possible, delay it, or use hearing aids to reverse the effects of hearing impairment. Clearly, hearing impairments cause several psychological and emotional problems among older adults. Examples of hearing loss’s negative influences include social isolation, depression, anxiety, and death. Hearing impairments can also affect an older adult’s cognition. However, most of these effects can be reversed through hearing aids/therapy. Therefore, people are encouraged to provide hearing aids to older adults to protect them from the harmful effects of hearing loss.
Amieva, H., Ouvrard, C., Meillon, C., Rullier, L., & Dartigues, J. F. (2018). Death, depression, disability, and dementia associated with self-reported hearing problems: a 25-year study. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, 73(10), 1383-1389.
Caposecco, A., Hickson, L., & Pedley, K. (2012). Cochlear implant outcomes in adults and adolescents with early-onset hearing loss. Ear and hearing, 33(2), 209-220.
Chuen, C. S., & Othman, N. A. N. (2019). Ear Foreign Body in Paediatric Patients: Methods of Removal and When to Refer. Bangladesh Journal of Medical Science, 18(2), 423-426.
Contrera, K. J., Betz, J., Deal, J., Choi, J. S., Ayonayon, H. N., Harris, T., … & Health ABC Study. (2017). Association of hearing impairment and anxiety in older adults. Journal of aging and health, 29(1), 172-184.
Géléoc, G. S., & Holt, J. R. (2014). Sound strategies for hearing restoration. Science, 344(6184).
Hearing loss. (2021). Mayo Clinic. Diseases & Conditions. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hearing-loss/symptoms-causes/syc-20373072
Lawrence, B. J., Jayakody, D. M., Bennett, R. J., Eikelboom, R. H., Gasson, N., & Friedland, P. L. (2020). Hearing loss and depression in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Gerontologist, 60(3), e137-e154.
Lin, F. R., Yaffe, K., Xia, J., Xue, Q. L., Harris, T. B., Purchase-Helzner, E., … & Health ABC Study Group, F. T. (2013). Hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 173(4), 293-299.
Sarant, J., Harris, D., Busby, P., Maruff, P., Schembri, A., Lemke, U., & Launer, S. (2020). The effect of hearing aid use on cognition in older adults: can we delay decline or even improve cognitive function?. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(1), 254.
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