Yes, you heard it right! Sound hearing health makes way for sound mental health. But for this, you need to take care of your hearing, and not just ignore it. Even if you think your hearing health is well and good, do consider taking proper care of it all the time. But are you sure whether your ears are doing really well? There are cases in which people think that they can hear well enough, but in reality, they may actually face certain hearing problems which are so minute that they are beyond human understanding. For example, a person might hear speech well enough, but might be unable to hear the natural sounds, such as that of leaves rustling or birds chirping, which although seem quite negligible or insignificant, but are equally important. Every sound is food to your brain!

 

Where Does the Problem Lie?

It is quite a common fact that you are going to face some kind of hearing problems as you start ageing. Studies across the world have shown that about 1 in 10 adults by the age of 40 are prone to experiencing some kind of hearing loss. However, the sad part is hearing loss occurs so slowly and gradually that you won’t even realise what you are missing until it’s too late! And worse still, many people do not bother to take proper care of their hearing or joining some hearing loss treatment programme or even wearing good quality hearing aids. There are even some who altogether deny that they are facing some kind of hearing problems.

The time when people do realise that they are facing some serious hearing problems, things already go out of hand, and they start facing various complexities in various phases, such as mental or emotional problems including depression, anxiety and even sleep disturbances. The truth is a hearing loss in most of the cases in inevitable especially as you start ageing, and you have to accept this truth. But you just can’t let it be as it is or ignore your problems, thinking that your hearing loss will go away by itself. The harsh truth is, IT WON’T! In a majority of cases, especially in those of presbycusis (hearing loss due to ageing), hearing problems are irreversible and worse still, if left untreated, they are bound to grow adverse.

But don’t worry if you have already started facing some hearing problems, there is good news for you! Hearing aids can save your hearing loss and prevent you from developing further problems, the most common being mental disbalances. So save it while you can, and prevent further damage! If you go for a proper hearing loss treatment on time and opt for good and quality hearing aids, then your cognitive decline would slow down as well. Research studies have shown that after adopting hearing aids, cognitive decline slowed down by almost 75%. So stop thinking, start acting!

 

How Do We Hear?

Before we proceed towards finding the link between hearing health and mental health, let’s try to understand the hearing mechanism of human beings in brief. The human ear comprises three main parts -

  • Outer ear - The outer ear consists of the visible part called pinna (or the auricle), a short auditory canal, and the outer layer of the eardrum, also known as the tympanic membrane.

  • Middle ear - It lies in between the outer ear and the inner ear. It comprises the air-filled cavity known as the tympanic cavity and the three small bones known as ossicles.

  • Inner ear - The inner ear consists of the snail-looking cochlea, which comprises the tiny but most important components called hair cells.

Sound signals enter the ear canal of the outer ear and strike against the eardrum, thus making it vibrate. These vibrations are transferred to the small ear bones known as the ossicles, which are then transferred to the cochlea of the inner ear. The hair cells in the cochlea are the main components which are responsible for converting analogue sound signals into electrical impulses. These converted electrical signals are then transferred to the auditory nerve which then passes this over the hearing processing centre of the brain. The brain after receiving these signals processes them and perceives them as sounds. It is only at this time that we actually perceive and ‘hear’ these sounds.

 

How will Hearing Health Affect Mental Health?

Now if these sounds do not reach your brain properly, to which it was habituated for so many days, then a time might come when your brain will altogether stop recognising them. This condition is called Auditory Deprivation. Since your brain is deprived of these sounds, it will gradually get used to this new ‘soundless’ world. This increases the risks of Dementia - a mental condition in which a person faces various psychological and emotional conditions and complexities like anxiety, depression, memory loss, forgetfulness, the feeling of loneliness and sleep disturbances. Hence, the conclusion, keeping your ears healthy, will promote a healthy mind and a sharp brain.

However, this doesn’t mean that wearing hearing aids would eliminate cognitive decline. No, it won’t. Because you just cannot stop an age-related decline in cognition and mental health - it is going to happen. It’s just that hearing devices can lessen the impacts to a great extent, and reduce the intensity of the decline.

In short, when you start wearing hearing aids you get proper access to the hearing world, which you have been missing all this while. This helps your ear nerves to stay stimulated. Stimulating your ears means stimulating the sensory nerves of your ears, and hence stimulating your brain. Wearing hearing aids would help your brain to regain what it had been missing for a long time.

If you stop taking care of your ears, you will gradually start isolating yourself socially. You will start avoiding all social events and all such gatherings in which you are frequently being misunderstood or being mocked at for not understanding what people are saying or failing to get hold of the main topic in group discussions. This makes you gradually start avoiding to attend such gatherings.

Social isolation, as a result, gradually leads to anxiety and depression, which further brings other mental problems. So taking care of your ears and treating your hearing problems on time will prevent deterioration of your mental health as well as your physical well-being.

 

Impacts of an Untreated Hearing Loss

  • Social Isolation or Social Phobia - It involves persistent fear of social events or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur.

  • Depression - Due to unexpected and frustrating situations you face everty\whee due to your hearing problems, you might feel depressed because nothing is going right in your life.

  • Cognitive decline - If you continue avoiding hearing aids, you would gradually experience a cognitive decline, because your brain has stopped receiving sounds. Each and every sound is food for your brain.

  • Diminished efficiency at work, Income disparity and Financial Problems - A cognitive decline would gradually diminish your ability to work efficiently, thus reducing your income capacities, and thus affecting your financial state.

  • Impaired memory - Untreated hearing loss leads to the dysfunctioning of the inner ear and the hearing nerves, as well as the brain - which stops functioning well due to lack of sound stimulus for a long time. This results in impaired memory and forgetfulness.

  • Being misunderstood or misjudged - If you think that wearing hearing aids would make you prone to being laughed at, you would be wrong! Hearing loss is visible, not your hearing aids! If you avoid wearing your hearing devices, you would likely to reply inappropriately to others while in a conversation. As a result, there would be greater chances of being mocked at, and being misjudged.

  • Safety issues - Avoiding hearing aids might be very dangerous, especially while you are on the streets. For example, if you can’t hear the honking of a speedy car approaching towards you, you might even face accidents.

  • Forgetting what nature sounds like - You might think that you will do quite well without having to hear the natural sounds of the environment, such as the rustling of the leaves, the chirping of the birds, etc. But even these are important for your brain to stay active for long.

  • Greater chances of falling - An affected inner ear can affect the vestibular system - the second important part of the inner ear - which is responsible for maintaining the body balance.

  • Personal relationships being affected - If you don’t open up or discuss about your hearing problems, you might face frequent misunderstandings with your friends and family members.

  • Anxiety - Various types of anxiety disorders might occur due to medical illness, psychological complications or due to reasons which do not meet any criteria for any specific anxiety.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder and/or personality - Recurrent behaviours are observed which are severe enough to be time-consuming or cause marked distress or significant impairment.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder - Development of characteristic symptoms occur following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor.

  • Lack of concentration - Of course if you can’t hear well, you would not be able to follow what’s going on. Also, anxiety which is caused as a result of an untreated hearing loss is going to divert your mind from whatever you do, and hence keep you distracted almost all the time. Because you would end up thinking about what would be the consequences of every activity that you do.

  • Sleep disorders - Your affected psychological state would affect your sleep cycle and hence cause sleep disorders.

  • Diminished quality of life - All these conditions affect your quality of life.

So now you know why is it so important to treat your hearing loss problems on time and to wear good quality hearing aids. Don’t leave your hearing loss untreated. Hear better and stay healthy.