Most of us know that with old age comes changes in our bodies; one of those changes is loss of hearing (medically called presbycusis). What you may not have expected is that hearing loss can greatly affect your mental health as an older adult, especially if it’s untreated.
Hearing loss can make you feel disconnected from your loved ones and excluded from social interactions. Many older adults also feel ashamed when they can’t hear, like any miscommunications or lack-of-understanding are their fault. Hearing loss isn’t your fault, and there are ways to cope with it so it doesn’t cause you as much emotional distress.
Why is this important?
- Hearing loss is a common problem for older adults. Half of people between the ages of 75 and 79 (and 30% of people aged 65 to 74) have hearing loss.
- Hearing loss is highly associated with psychological distress for older adults.
- Hearing loss, especially when it’s untreated, can cause problems in older adults’ relationships and social lives. This is a serious problem because older adults are, in general, more likely to be socially isolated.
- Older adults with hearing loss are more likely to need antidepressant medications and other mental health services.
- Research has found that using hearing aids decrease the amount of psychological distress hearing loss causes.
- Hearing loss can cause poor self-image and feelings of shame.
How to cope with hearing loss as an older adult:
- Let people around you know that you’re hard of hearing. It is nothing to be ashamed of, and it will help people to adjust their speaking volume so that you’re included in conversations.
- Use hearing aids. Hearing aids work well and can improve your hearing. When older adults use hearing aids, they are less likely to feel psychological distress as a result of their hearing loss.
- Try to have conversations with people one at a time. It can be easier to hear one person, rather than several people talking at once.
- Choose the location wisely when you’ll be listening to someone talk. For example, choose a quiet table in the restaurant, or place yourself directly next to the person you are talking to.
- Talk to a professional about how hearing loss is affecting your life. Many older adults deny these problems, and the average length of time it takes for older adults to get professional help is between 5 and 7 years.
- Try not to put labels on yourself, like “stupid” or “foolish,” when it comes to not being able to hear. Hearing loss is a common part of aging, and it’s not your fault.
- Understand that loss of hearing is a real loss in your life, and you may experience feelings of grief.
- If you are speaking to a senior with hearing loss, face them directly, don’t cover your face, and enunciate your words. Volume is not always the problem.
Bigelow, R. T., Reed, N. S., Brewster, K. K., Huang, A., Rebok, G., Rutherford, B. R., & Lin, F. R. (2020). Association of Hearing Loss With Psychological Distress and Utilization of Mental Health Services Among Adults in the United States. JAMA Network Open, 3(7), e2010986. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.10986
Gomez, R. G., & Madey, S. F. (2001). Coping-with-hearing-loss model for older adults. The Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 56(4), P223-225. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/56.4.p223
Hearing loss: A common problem for older adults. (n.d.). National Institute on Aging. Retrieved February 1, 2022, from http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/hearing-loss-common-problem-older-adults
Hearing loss in older adults—Its effect on mental health. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2022, from https://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/071510p18.shtml