Memory Loss & Psychological Distress with Hearing Loss

If you have a loved one with hearing loss, you might know that other problems tend to crop up, as well. Perhaps your loved one is struggling with memory issues, experiencing psychological distress, or struggling to participate in outdoor activities. It is difficult to know if these conditions are related to hearing loss or are simply happening on their own.

Although this connection can be difficult to understand, a recent study has found that there is indeed a relationship between these other conditions and hearing loss. Results show that those with hearing loss also experience memory loss, psychological distress, and difficulty participating in outdoor activities in higher rates than those who do not have hearing loss. Let’s take a look at the study as well as some of the potential reasons for the connection between such seemingly different conditions.

Hearing Loss and Other Outcomes

This study took place in Japan with a very large sample of 137,723 people aged 65 years or older. Everyone in the sample was living at home, as opposed to an assisted living institution, and they did not have clinical diagnoses of dementia at the time of the study. Out of this large group of research participants, 12,389 reported hearing loss (9%).

The purpose of this study was to test the connection between these other outcomes and hearing loss, and the sample was large enough to substantiate a statistically significant link.

Indeed, the results were striking for all three reports. In the first case, 37.7% of those with hearing loss reported memory loss as well, but only 5.2% those without hearing loss had memory loss. In the second case, 39.7% of those with hearing loss also reported psychological distress, but 19.3% of those without hearing loss did so, roughly half. Finally, 28.9% of those with hearing loss had limitations on their ability to participate in outdoor activities, while only 9.5% of those without hearing loss did so.

In each case, a demonstrable connection between hearing loss and the negative health outcome was established. These results prompted researchers to ask why they would be connected.

How Hearing Loss is Connected

If those with hearing loss experience these other outcomes at such higher rates, it is not necessarily because hearing loss is directly causing the negative outcome. Yet, researchers wonder if some of the cases do work that way. Take psychological distress, for instance. Those who experience hearing loss can feel stress, anxiety, frustration, and even depression as a direct result of their lost hearing ability. We don’t know if the entire difference in the rates of psychological distress is due to that connection, but certainly some of the reports might have to do with a direction relationship.

Although it might seem unlikely, researchers also wonder if there is a direct, causal relationship between memory loss and hearing loss. This relationship has not yet been proven, but cognitive scientists know that the use of language is a crucial way to preserve mental health and even to stave off dementia. When hearing loss becomes so serious that it impairs conversation ability, it can get in the way of cognitive functioning in other ways, as well. More research is necessary in the area of understanding the mechanism that connects hearing loss and memory loss, and this connection might shed light on the connection with dementia, as well.

As to the final condition examined in this study, it is unclear if hearing loss was preventing the respondents from taking part in outdoor activities, but the connection is entirely possible. Those who have hearing loss can feel reticent to take part in social events due to anxiety about their ability to easily converse in those settings. Furthermore, there can be anxiety about outdoor activities that require awareness of one’s surroundings.

Feelings of insecurity can make one hesitant to be physically active outdoors, leading to even more health problems down the road.

Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss

If you fear that you or someone you love might have untreated hearing loss, take the opportunity to seek a hearing test right away. Treatment for hearing loss in the form of hearing aids or other assistive technology might even prevent some of these other negative health outcomes down the road.