Hearing Loss & Depression: Two characteristics that explain the relationship
When I explain how hearing loss can lead to depression, some understand readily. And then there are those who give me an RCA-Dog-style-tilt-of-the-head look of skepticism when I assert that there’s a connection. This post is for the skeptics.
There’s a clear pattern in the research. Those who treat their hearing loss lead more socially engaged, socially active lives. Their interactions are more satisfying. And they report less sadness, anxiety, and depression as compared to their hearing loss peers who remain untreated.
For the unconvinced, there’s two things I’d ask you to consider.
First: When you suffer from hearing loss, listening is a more effortful and exhausting exercise. In my experience, it is one of the characteristics of hearing loss that “healthy” hearers understand the least. If you have healthy hearing, you listen and engage with little comparative effort. You take your healthy hearing for granted. It is as easy and natural and effortless as any number of other mundane activities.
But, if you have hearing loss, you have to expend energy to understand what people are saying. It doesn’t come easy. It’s work, HARD work. And the effort takes its toll. You tire more easily. Social interaction ‘feels’ less energizing because the effort expended to listen is draining. This ‘effort – fatigue – drained’ experience is a pathway to depression, sadness, and anxiety.
Second: Our perspective on our own hearing loss and depression is very similar. Sitting here now, in a specific moment, neither hearing loss nor depression are easily recognized. It is by having the awareness of our experience over time that it becomes apparent.
Depression and hearing loss come to us gradually.
Does that mean hearing loss leads to depression? As an audiologist, I am constantly taken aback at the change in my patients. I see the after, not the before. I don’t see my patients when they had normal hearing and didn’t have the consuming experience of trying to hear.
I see them after the hearing loss has taken its toll. I can draw you a picture before treatment: tired, drained, frustrated, sometimes sullen; yet resolved. The after is just stunning: engaged, lighter on their feet. The jokes, smiles, and laughs come much more frequently; as if a great burden has been lifted.
I hear it so very often from my patients: “Why didn’t I do this years ago?”