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The mental health toll of untreated hearing loss

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Life is like a big, exciting concert where hearing is our ticket to connect with everyone and everything around us. I imagine missing out on some of the music because of untreated hearing loss — it's like the sound becomes a little fuzzy. It’s more than just FOMO - losing that clarity can lead those with untreated hearing loss to struggle with isolation and feelings of depression, or embarrassment. 

Research shows that adults with untreated hearing loss report higher rates of sadness and more frequently report perceiving that others were angry with them for no reason. Hearing loss can contribute to social isolation and loneliness. It’s important to open the dialogue about untreated hearing loss and the toll it takes on mental health, both for patients and their loved ones, to better understand and support this issue. Let’s explore the effects of hearing loss on mental health together. 

Social Isolation and Wellbeing:

Untreated hearing loss can make you feel alone and left out. When you can't hear well, it's hard to join conversations or be part of social activities. This might lead to staying away from friends and family gatherings. Feeling disconnected and not being able to fully enjoy social moments can leave you sad and frustrated. 

You might notice yourself or a loved one responding to their hearing loss by withdrawing from socialization. This might present as:

Avoiding group conversations or large gatherings where it’s difficult for you to participate in conversation. This might include weddings, conferences, or family dinners which can be overwhelming. The combination of multiple conversations and ambient noise can make it difficult to focus on specific voices in these settings.

Avoiding noisy restaurants or cafes because the high background noise worsens your speech comprehension. Combining music, chatter, and the noises of dishware can make for a challenging auditory environment.

Avoiding meetings online or in person. In online meetings, you might not be able to view the faces of the other participants in order to utilize lip reading to cope with their hearing loss. In-person meetings may also be challenging environments in which to follow conversation, especially when speakers overlap.

Avoiding phone conversations, as you rely on auditory cues that may be distorted or lost over the phone. This can lead to misunderstandings and frustration, prompting you to avoid or minimize phone communication.

Avoiding social hobbies because you no longer feel confident and competent interacting with others during hobbies they used to enjoy. This can be brought on because lost auditory details and conversations make you feel out of place in a once-familiar setting.

It's not just about hearing; it's about feeling connected. This kind of social isolation can affect a person's overall well-being, making you feel not as happy or healthy. Seeking help for hearing loss is essential to stay connected and improve how you feel every day.

Cognitive Load and Mental Fatigue:

Untreated hearing loss can bring extra challenges to the brain, causing something called "cognitive load" and making you feel mentally tired. When you can't hear well, your brain has to work harder to understand sounds and conversations. This extra effort can lead to mental fatigue, making it feel like your mind is working extra hard all the time.

Sometimes patients don’t realize until after they start using hearing aids that they used to unconsciously squint, furrow their brow, or tense their jaw when straining to hear. Having the strain of listening relieved can help them comfortably relax their facial muscles during conversation, instead of being on edge. Sometimes audiologists jokingly refer to this as a “hearing aid facelift”. 

Often, the repeated strain of struggling to hear wears on individuals. By the end of the day, they might feel more tired or irritable. Tension and increased mental workload everyday can add up, and negatively impact overall happiness and well-being.

Imagine trying to piece together a puzzle without all the pieces—it's tricky and tiring. This cognitive load from untreated hearing loss can impact how well you focus, remember things, and your mood. Seeking help, like using hearing aids, can reduce this load, helping your brain function better and lowering the mental fatigue that comes with untreated hearing loss.

Emotional Toll on Self-Esteem:

Untreated hearing loss can take an emotional toll on a person's self-esteem. When you can't hear well, it may make you feel left out or frustrated, which can affect how you see yourself. Communication becomes harder, and you might worry about what others think. Increased miscommunication due to difficulty hearing can also lead to frustration or disagreements with others. 

This can lead to a drop in self-esteem. Sometimes patients also feel that others are annoyed with them because of their hearing loss, which can impact their perception of self-worth.

Seeking help for hearing loss, like using hearing aids, can make a big difference. It not only improves your hearing but also boosts your confidence and self-esteem, helping you feel more connected and positive about yourself and the world around you.

Fear/Stigma and Delayed Help Seeking:

Some people wait to get help for their hearing because they are worried about what others might think or feel embarrassed about it. There are unfortunately a lot of negative and misguided ideas floating around about hearing loss- that it’s only an “old people problem” or that hearing tech is bulky and unattractive. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Age-related hearing loss can begin as early as your 30s or 40s. Not to mention, hearing technology has never been more sleek, comfortable, and advanced.

Fear and stigma can delay using hearing aids or seeking treatment. However, overcoming these concerns is important because getting help, like using hearing aids, can make life better. It improves communication, connections with others, and overall experiences. It's a brave choice that positively changes how someone interacts with the world.

In our journey through the nuanced effects of untreated hearing loss, let's celebrate the power of awareness and empathy in fostering positive change. By taking proactive steps, we can transform challenges into opportunities, ensuring a more inclusive and fulfilling life for all. Embracing the beauty of sound, connection, and understanding, we pave the way for a future where every individual can confidently engage in the symphony of life.