Protecting Your Hearing Means Protecting Your Mental Health
By Carol Stoll and Lauren McGrath
In addition to depression, hearing loss has been linked to schizophrenia. Several studies support the social defeat hypothesis, which proposes that social exclusion and loneliness can predispose people to schizophrenia by increasing sensitization of the dopamine system. In a December 2014 study published in JAMA Psychology, participants with hearing loss reported significantly more feelings of social defeat than healthy controls. Though their psychotic symptoms were similar to the control group, exposing them to a stimulant drug showed that those with hearing loss had significantly higher than normal dopamine sensitivity. Further studies are needed to draw definite conclusions of the causation, but this research is a first step in understanding the relationship between hearing impairment, social defeat, and psychosis.
In older adults, hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline and dementia, according to a February 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine and several other studiesconducted at Johns Hopkins University. The scientists concluded that reduced social engagement and a cognitive load focused on coping with hearing loss rather than higher level thinking can lead to poorer cognitive functioning and faster mental decline. Hearing aids could possibly be a simple fix to increase healthy brain function in the older adult population and reduce the risk of dementia.
Exposure to noise often results in tinnitus instead of or in addition to hearing loss, which can also contribute to a range of psychological disorders. Tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people in the U.S., and causes permanent ringing in the ears. Though research for therapies is ongoing, there is currently no cure. Without therapy, constant ringing in the ears can be debilitating; it can affect job performance, cause insomnia, and provoke fear, anxiety, and anger. This can lead to depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and can exasperate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Compromised hearing is an invisible disability, often unnoticed or ignored even by those affected. However, hearing loss and tinnitus are widespread and can have serious psychological repercussions. Hearing loss caused by noise exposure is completely preventable by taking simple measures like turning down the volume on your earbuds and using hearing protective devices in loud situations. Regular hearing screenings can also help detect hearing issues early on.
For more information on hearing health and to take a free, quick, confidential, online hearing test in Los Angeles, please contact a West Coast Hearing & Balance at one of our locations or call (805) 379-0824.