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Hearing Loss And Depression: Not a Lost Cause

Joe had always been an upbeat and busy person, enjoying a wide range of activities with his family and friends. Then, as he was nearing his 80s, Joes happy disposition and positive outlook on life suddenly changed. He became uncommunicative and withdrawn.

What happened to Joe? I started to realize that I was losing my hearing, he recalls. All the activities I used to enjoy, like going to concerts and the theater, I couldnt do anymore.

The breaking point came when Joes grandson was in a school play and I couldnt hear a thing, even though I sat in the front row. I saw his lips move and people were applauding, but I had the surreal feeling that I wasnt even there. It was devastating; as if a black cloud descended on my life.

That darkness had a name: depression. People say that, all things considered, a hearing impairment is not as bad as other diseases and disabilities, Joe says. Still, when you feel cut off from the buzz of life, your whole outlook changes.

As in many other cases, Joes hearing loss didnt just happen overnight. It was a slow and insidious process, which, ear specialists say, can take up to 30 years to develop, and may not be discernable at first. Unfortunately, once it is, many people still delay getting help. By the time they finally do, they may already be in the throes of mental anguish.

Depression A Chronic Problem

Various research studies indicate that as health problems increase, so does the risk of depression. It is a way of grieving our losses. In Joes case, it was the loss of all the sound-based stimuli and activities he used to enjoy in his retirement. Doctors know that depression is a common complication of a chronic illness. Ongoing pain or discomfort that affects a persons independence or mobility, as well as the adjustment to new limitations imposed by an illness, can trigger a psychological and emotional reaction.

American Psychiatric Association studies indicate that people with chronic illnesses have a 25 to 33 percent chance of getting depressed. For those without chronic illnesses, the chances are much lower; between 10 and 25 percent for women and 5 to 12 percent for men.

Can hearing loss qualify as a chronic illness? It is certainly a prevalent one. According to the National Institutes of Health, hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. Roughly one-third of Americans 65 to 74 years of age and nearly half of those 75 and older have age-related hearing loss called presbycusis. Among seniors, hearing loss is the third most prevalent disabling condition, behind arthritis and hypertension.

Turning A Deaf Ear

Several years ago the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) conducted the largest known study on the effects of an untreated hearing loss on adults and their families. It surveyed 2,300 hearing impaired people age 50 and over, and found that those with an untreated hearing ailment were more likely to suffer from depression, sadness, anxiety, and even paranoia.

But even though the negative effects of hearing loss can be significantly reduced with hearing aids, some people delay treatment or resist getting it altogether. Why would someone with a hearing disability not use hearing aids? Denial, vanity, and finances were three top reasons cited by the survey respondents. Two-thirds said their hearing was not bad enough. About one-half cited the cost of hearing aids. And one in five expressed concerns that a hearing aid would make them feel old, or what others will think about me.

Instead of getting help, these people become withdrawn and isolated, leading to erroneous assumptions that these folks are confused, unresponsive, or uncooperative. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

Getting Sound Results

Sometimes, in cases of a severe, long-lasting or chronic depression, seeking professional help might be just what a doctor ordered. But in many cases relief is, literally, within an earshot. In fact, numerous studies have repeatedly shown that hearing aids can and do enhance a persons quality of life by improving communication, social interaction, and overall lifestyle.

A survey by Better Hearing Institute (BHI), a Washington D.C. area-based non-profit organization that educates the general public about the hearing loss, treatment and prevention, shows that nine out of 10 Americans who have hearing aids enjoy a higher quality of life.

The NCOA study also bore out the benefits of treatment. Hearing aid wearers and their families reported considerable improvements in their mental health, family relationships, social interactions, self-confidence, sense of safety, and life in general.

Can a hearing aid really improve a persons outlook? Just ask Joe who, after three months of anguish and self-imposed isolation, was fitted with a digital hearing aid. It did make a world of difference, he says. I started to enjoy lifes little pleasures all over again.

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