Hearing loss affecting psychosocial health, particularly in young people

An extensive survey found clear associations between hearing loss and feelings of loneliness, distress, depression, anxiety and somatization. Young people are more deeply affected than older people.

Young people with hearing loss are more prone to a decline in psychosocial health than older hearing impaired people, according to a so-called National Hearing Test conducted in Holland among 1511 individuals aged 18-70 years. The respondents answered a series of online speech-in-noise screening questions relating to hearing and self-reported psychosocial functioning.

The participants were divided into age groups from 18-29, 30-39, etc. The test indicated that the youngest group experienced a clear association between decreased hearing and increased loneliness. In the 30-39 years of age group, the emphasis was on distress and somatization. 40-49 year-olds talked mostly about distress, self-efficacy, depression and anxiety, somatization was the main charateristic among the 50-59 year-olds, whereas no specific characteristic stood out in the 60-70 year age group.

Bigger hearing loss, worse health

In all of the age groups more hearing loss equalled worse general health. As an example, the risk of severe depression increased by five percent per dB of individual hearing loss. Similarly, the likelihood of somatization and distress increased by two percent for each dB of hearing loss. The likelyhood of feeling lonely was found to increase by seven percent per dB of hearing loss.

Younger people more severely affected

Mild distress states are considered part of normal life and do not interfere with normal social functioning. However, elevated levels of distress with symptoms such as worry, irritability, tension, poor concentration and insomnia may force a person to give up and withdraw from major social roles, especially the occupational role. Therefore, the impact of hearing impairment in adults younger than 70 years may be greater than the impact in elderly people.

Of the 1,511 respondents 546 were males and 965 were females, with a total of 355 reporting that they used hearing aids. No significant differences were found in the responses by females or males within the age groups.

Source: Ear and Hearing 2009, 30, 302-312, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

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