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The Surprising Psychology of Hearing Loss

By Miriam Dorisca
Hearing loss affects millions of people—both physically and mentally. Learn more about the psychological effects of hearing loss and how it can impact your mental health.

Losing your hearing doesn’t just mean that you won't be able to hear sounds clearly. Hearing loss has also been associated with brain atrophy, cognitive decline, and even dementia. The effects of hearing loss can also be linked to feelings of depression, loneliness, and anxiety. 

How Does Hearing Loss Affect the Brain?

Hearing helps the brain stay active by processing sound. As your hearing loss occurs, the part of your brain that processes sound becomes less active. It's been hypothesized that this lack of activity causes the portion of your brain that processes sound to deteriorate, which can lead to cognitive decline.

The connections between hearing loss, particularly age-related hearing loss, and cognitive decline are under active study. Another hypothesis is that age-related hearing loss may be linked with cognitive decline because the two conditions share common causes.  

Because of the links between hearing loss and your brain’s health, it’s important to have your hearing checked on a regular basis. Hearing loss can happen gradually as you age and may go undetected for years.

By the time an issue is diagnosed, the part of your brain that processes sound may have already begun to experience atrophy. If hearing loss is detected in the early stages, hearing aids and other treatments can be used to improve hearing and possibly slow cognitive decline.

The Mental and Emotional Effects of Hearing Loss

The negative mental and emotional effects of hearing loss aren't limited to the person experiencing the loss. Friends and family could also be affected. For one,spousal relationships can become strained as communication becomes a struggle.

Hearing loss may also result in social isolation. Some find it hard to follow conversations with friends and family, which can lead them to withdraw from social interaction. “The emotional side effects of hearing loss are deep because frustrations are most poignant with those we love,” Tim Trine, PhD, Chief Executive Officer at Noopl, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Adults with hearing loss may also experience difficulties in daily life.

“Mentally and emotionally, hearing loss is likely to take a toll on the individual until they develop appropriate coping strategies and new skills," Shenell Myrie, PsyD, a licensed psychologist at Thriveworks, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

"The age in which the hearing loss occurred, family dynamics, and resources play a role in how the hearing loss impacts the individual both mentally and emotionally,” Myrie adds. 

There is, however, promising evidence that hearing aids can disrupt the negative emotional effects of hearing loss. A 2020 study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association found that, while hearing loss is indeed linked with a higher chance of developing psychological distress and a greater need for mental health services, the use of hearing aids decreased the odds of psychological distress developing. 

Hearing loss can be managed and treated.

The earlier you address the symptoms of hearing loss, the more likely you are to avoid irreversible damage. Get the answers you need to start treatment today.