Approximately 3.6 million Australians are affected by some degree of hearing loss, and this proportion
increases dramatically with age. It is estimated that hearing loss affects 58% of people aged 61-70 years
and up to 74% of people aged 71 years and older. Not only is hearing loss very common, but it can also have
wide-reaching impacts on the lives of individuals and their families.
Research has shown that many people with hearing loss must contend with communication difficulties, social breakdown, stigma, fatigue, reduced functional ability and cognitive decline. Given the number of potential difficulties, it is unsurprising that hearing loss has also been associated with poor mental health. Numerous studies have explored the relationship between hearing loss and mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and psychosis. Research has been conducted using a variety of different mental health measures and assessments of hearing ability. Whilst we see some variation of results in each individual study, when we consider these studies together (a type of study called a meta-analysis), people with hearing loss are significantly more likely to experience mental health concerns. So, hearing loss can be related to mental health concerns.
What’s the good news? Current evidence suggests that improving your hearing ability, e.g. with hearing aids or a cochlear implant, may assist with the improvement of mental health. Researchers have found that hearing aids or cochlear implants can help reduce symptoms of depression and stress. But there is much more we can learn about how we can help people with hearing loss and mental health concerns.
Research supported by The University of Melbourne, Australian Rotary Health and the Rotary Club of Terrigal is currently being conducted to explore the experience of older adults with hearing loss and mental health concerns. The valuable information provided by the study’s participants will help inform hearing health clinicians (i.e. audiologists) to provide the best model of care for their clients.
For 24/7 crisis support please call Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 24 636.
Written by Emma Laird, Clinical Audiologist at The University of Melbourne.