Study: The Impact of Hearing Loss on Mental Wellbeing & Lifestyle

Man struggling with hearing loss

In a study from 2019 to 2020, we conducted a survey that allowed us to collect data from 3,767 respondents. With that many participants, there was always bound to be some dissenting opinions, but one thing was made crystal clear – addressing hearing problems appropriately always leads to a happier and healthier lifestyle.

In this article, we’ll be using our own research from our survey to address both the difficulties of hearing loss and the anxieties regarding hearing tests and hearing aids.

We’ll also be going over the various ways that healthy ears can lead to a happier life, and how neglected ears can cause some real issues as they start to impact the rest of the body.

Communication and lifestyle (pre-hearing aid)

There are plenty of health-related issues that can arise from hearing loss, but those aren’t the only potential issues. In fact, when we conducted a survey regarding the concerns of people with hearing loss, only 11% of our visitors reported medical effects. The remaining 89% cited social and personal problems.

As horrible as the potential medical side effects may be, it’s clear that hearing loss’s effects on someone’s life are more than just biological.

Social

Health is a big concern, yes, but in our survey, poor conversation was cited as the biggest negative side effect of hearing loss, with almost 40% of our users claiming that their communication had worsened or were harder to follow due to their hearing loss.

This graphic highlights the complications within a group compared to activities done by an individual at home.

When asked to expand on their communication struggles, here is what some people had to say:

  • “I play football, it affects my game greatly, also in my social interactions it's a huge hindrance.”
  • “It's made things difficult especially social situations such as bars, bowling and at church.”
  • “It has drastically affected my quality of life. I can no longer participate in normal conversations because I cannot hear nor understand the words being spoken.”
  • “Not participating in family gatherings, feeling left out.”
  • “Terribly. Can't sleep. Relationship broken up”
  • “It affects my everyday life.”

At school and work:

  • “I can't hear the people next to me at lunch because the background middle school cafeteria sound is too loud.”
  • “I can't hear my teachers and I can't hear my mom”
  • “Difficulty understanding coworkers and small group discussions.”
  • “Affecting my work life.”
  • “Difficulty in doing my job and difficulty in joining in conversations.”

Emotional conversation responses:

  • “People get mad at me.”
  • “Need people to talk louder and they have to repeat.”
  • “I'm tired of saying ‘What?'”
  • “I would say a different answer and people started laughing at me.”
  • “Have a hard time hearing what people are saying especially my grand children.”

Impact on social and mental well-being:

  • “[hearing loss] has affected me a lot, negatively. Became depressed at not understanding conversations.”
  • “Makes me feel isolated when I cannot hear my family talk to each other.”
  • “It’s getting harder to communicate with others.”
  • “Isolated me from being in a public place.”
  • “It has caused me depression.”

But when it comes to social relationships, an individual is only one half of the equation. Usually, it's the loved ones of those suffering from hearing loss that first notice problems and frustrations. 58% of our participants who gave statements mentioned that their relationships had suffered; it's not hard to see that hearing loss affects more than just the initial sufferer.

20% of people who come to our site are looking on behalf of someone else and these are some of the problems they cite with their hearing impaired loved one. Taking this information onboard, we sought to explore this further by asking the same question of how has hearing loss affected you, but to friends and family:

If you’re puzzled on the definition of “electronic device,” we go into it a bit further down. First, here are some statements we took from non-primary buyers, broken into two sections. First, we have people noticing and worrying about problems experienced by their suffering loved one:

  • “It's causing my Mom to become isolated and depressed… She is 90 years old and 100% mentally [sound].”
  • “We can no longer communicate via telephone due to her severe hearing loss.”
  • “Quite a lot of frustration in my mom's daily interaction with people!”
  • “My dad can't hear his doctor. He is now in a hospice and can't hear the TV. I'm looking for something that will allow him to have some kind of quality of life for as long as possible.”
  • “He doesn't even care anymore if he can hear, but he gets frustrated that he can't hear.”
  • “Very frustrated when unable to join in conversation.”
  • “[He] became depressed because of not understanding conversations”
  • “He has no money, needing hearing aids for getting a job.”

And then we have people who are undergoing their own frustrations when dealing with their impaired loved one:

  • “Its seriously become an issue. I'm leaving him because of it. I doubt he’ll hear me leave.”
  • “There could be a break up in the relationship due to this. Can't take the ‘auditorium volume' TV all night long anymore…”
  • “Horrible to have to yell and so sad for my father who lost the ability to play instruments and sing… that was his whole life.”
  • “Makes him withdraw, and makes me the spokesperson.”
  • “For me, I hate having to repeat myself and practically yell for him to hear me.”
  • “Very hard to converse. Horrible to have to yell”
  • “The neighbors are complaining and they are getting angry.  Everyone around my mom is frustrated.”
  • “Can’t hear me call from the next room. Driving me mad!”

Quote Mark
“The spouse of the person with hearing loss can be negatively impacted, especially when the person with hearing loss does not seek help. They can get very frustrated by having to yell or repeat themselves, and may even act as the person's “ears” or interpreter at doctor's appointments, on phone calls, or in social situations. Their social life may also suffer as a result of their loved one choosing to avoid social activities because of their hearing loss, causing isolation not only for the person with hearing loss, but their spouse as well.”

Lindsey Banks AuD

When it comes to personality changes, a person’s loved ones can always be trusted to notice before the individual themselves – hence why higher percentages of non-primary buyers responded regarding communication issues.

Personal activities (those affected and those around the affected)

In our survey regarding problems encountered with hearing loss, individuals tended to draw attention to more personal effects, voicing their difficulty hearing the television clearly and the feeling of isolation. Others highlighted how hearing loss had caused them to become depressed because of not being able to understand conversations.

“Personal effects” might sound like a bit of a broad category, but when we say “personal,” we’re addressing problems that are unrelated to medical or social issues.

“Personal” effects relate to hobbies and activities that can’t be enjoyed fully without an adequate level of hearing ability. For example:

Here’s what some of our users had to say regarding personal activities:

  • “Have to turn the TV up quite loud, have to ask my wife what someone said when we are watching TV, can't hear in situations with background noise.”
  • “People have to be facing me for me to hear, & the TV has to be turned up for me to be able to understand what people are saying.”
  • “Struggle to hear through background noise, and others tell me the TV is too loud.”
  • “Hard to watch TV and sing songs.”
  • “Watching TV is very frustrating, I use the close caption but lately most of the dialogue is not showing so I miss half the conversation anyway.”
  • “Trouble understanding what people are saying in when there is background noise and chatter from others in the room. While driving I could not recognize where sound was coming from, when sirens are blaring from emergency vehicles.”
  • “I struggle to hear in noisy locations, like restaurants or from the front seat to the backseat in the car.”
  • “Difficulty understanding conversations in noisy restaurants.”
  • “Difficulty hearing women's voices at plays and films.”
  • “I don't go out to parties or do anything fun anymore.”

Interestingly, in the non-primary buyer survey that we discussed, the most frequently picked answer regarding how hearing loss affected their loved one was related to the volume of electronic devices.

Compared to the 16% of hearing loss sufferers who responded with problems hearing the TV or phone, 20% of the non-primary buyers said that their loved one was having struggles with electronic devices.

None of these are game-changing detriments to a person’s life, but when they’re all combined, they can add up to a day full of frustrating and defeating experiences, which slowly turns into an exhausting year of straining to hear and asking “what?”

Can't hear television

Common causes of hearing aid anxiety

Considering the number of effects associated with hearing loss, it’s easy to see why hearing aids offer a welcome preventative measure. However, that doesn’t mean that people don’t have sincere concerns regarding the investigation and purchase of hearing aids.

Quote Mark
“Many people avoid even getting a hearing test because they don't want to be told they need hearing aids.”

Lindsey Banks AuD

In fact, in evaluating our survey data, 75% of people with hearing loss had various concerns regarding the purchase of hearing aids. These concerns included:

Aesthetics

We can address these, going from the bottom up. Firstly, hearing aids have made huge strides throughout the past couple of decades – particularly in terms of their size and aesthetic.

Discreet Hearing Aid

Modern hearing aids are much smaller and less noticeable than ever before. If a person is specifically looking for a hearing aid, then yes, they’ll see it, but it won’t stand out or overshadow the user’s face.

Funnily enough, the following quote is a complaint, but it does indicate how subtle newer hearing aids have become:

  • “Nobody sees my BTEs (behind the ear) — would love to ‘dress them up’!”

The process

Being uncertain of the whole purchase process is absolutely valid – it’s an entire realm of science and business, and unless the person seeking a hearing aid out is an audiologist themself, it would be almost entirely alien and impenetrable. That’s why we have a guide on the process of buying hearing aids, which addresses everything that someone should be worried about from beginning to end.

Comfort

Similarly, hearing aid comfort has also improved dramatically over the years. It would be a lie to say that it won’t feel like the user has something in their ear, but if they use them as regularly as is recommended, they’ll slowly get used to them in the same way that people adapt to glasses or braces. Also, since we spend a lot of our time with headphones in, they might not even have to adapt to having objects in their ears!

Cost

Cost is certainly a valid concern. If the buyer is not appropriately insured, hearing aids can take a chunk out of their bank account. However, as we discuss in our article on hearing aid costs, the price of a hearing aid is quite reasonable when looking at the outgoing costs of a hearing aid distributor.

Still, they can cost a considerable amount, so make sure no stone is left unturned when it comes to any insurance or state-funded options that may lessen the blow. It varies from state to state and person to person, so it’s always worth asking a doctor or doing some research.

Reliability

Finally, we come to product reliability. These are two concerns under one banner – whether or not the hearing aid will work and reliably convey sound, and whether or not it’s susceptible to breaking.

It’s fair to think about both of these possibilities, especially when hearing aids cost a considerable amount. However, if the buyer doesn’t cut corners when it comes to getting the hearing aid, ( e.g. making sure they’re honest with the hearing specialist), then the hearing aid/s should be well suited to their condition and needs.

  • “Hearing aids allow me to communicate with friends and family as well as work colleagues. Without hearing aids, life becomes isolated and lonely.”
  • “Helped me hear better in loud and 121 situations.”
  • “I hear better and don’t get as frustrated.”
  • “I couldn’t function without them.”
  • “[They're] a necessity in order to have conversations.”
  • “Hearing aids gave me my life back!”

Hearing aids are generally very sturdy things, but it's reasonable to be concerned about their longevity. Any hearing aid will need to be cleaned regularly, and if it isn’t taken in for a retune at appropriate intervals, then it won’t be as effective as it should be. Just be careful with it, and it won’t pose any major problems or malfunctions.

  • “Been wearing them for over 10 years – time for a new pair”

Hearing test anxieties

Hearing tests are quick and simple processes, but since people are so typically unfamiliar with them, there can be anxieties associated with the idea of getting your hearing tested.

In fact, in our survey, we found that 66% of people who have had a hearing test were concerned before they went in. When asked to expand on their anxieties, here is what they had to say:

  • 41% of people were worried about the results – it’s one thing to suspect having hearing loss, it’s another entirely to have these thoughts confirmed by a medical professional. Participant statements:
    • “The results of how bad my hearing is”
    • “If I was going deaf”
  • 31% were worried about the accuracy of the test. This could be a concern related to being unsure what hearing tests actually entail, but it’s also possible that people are concerned about the audiologist’s honesty. Hearing aid sales make up a large part of an audiologist’s income, so some people are worried about the potential dishonesty of a specialist in order to get a sale. Participant statements:
    • “Being able to hear the test tones inside of the booth since it was not soundproof.”
    • “Lack of trust”
    • “Understanding the test/the words.”
  • 14% of people said they had concerns with tinnitus. Hearing loss is one thing, but some people were concerned about whether or not a hearing test or the resulting prescription would be of any help to a case of tinnitus. Participant statements:
    • “Can it mask pulsatile tinnitus”
    • “Tinnitus loudness increased”
  • The remaining 14% cited cost as their biggest concern – hearing aids are expensive, and the idea of being told to buy one can be very daunting. Participant statement:
    • ” I can't afford hearing aids”

From an outsider’s perspective, these are all valid concerns. However, hearing tests are just like any other medical process, just like audiologists are like any other medical professional. They are doctors, and their job is to help and protect you.

They won’t scam you into buying a product worth a couple thousand dollars – you’ll only be suggested a hearing aid if your condition calls for one. And if your insurance or government doesn’t give you much help, and you simply can’t afford it, you don’t have to get one. It’s still worth having a hearing test to get a gauge on your hearing condition.

Health implications of hearing loss

It’s easy to view body-related problems with tunnel vision – a heart problem being just a heart problem, or a stomach issue being just a stomach issue. But with the human body running as one complex machine, nothing is ever that simple.

The ears are no exception to this sprawling web of interdependent flesh and bone. A problem with someone’s ears could lead to any number of problems with the rest of their body further down the road.

Of course – a problem with a person’s ears isn’t going to lead to problems with their fingers or mess with their digestion. The human body is connected, yes, but not every part has an impact on every other part.

Don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet, however, because the problems that can come from poor aural health are potentially the worst of the bunch.

The ears are heavily integrated with the most important body part – the brain. The ears have a direct pathway to the brain, and therefore maintain a close working relationship.

Ear and Brain

As a result of this, an extended problem with a person’s ears can lead to serious issues with mental health. These potential problems can include:

We’re willing to bet that none of these sound very appealing, especially if they were paired with each other.

Despite how passive hearing loss is, These devastating conditions certainly can result from it. Hearing is one of our five main senses, and losing it is an enormous tax on our mental facilities. The more the brain tires itself out, the more susceptible it is to illness and damage. 

The inner ear is extremely sensitive to heat, meaning that if a person has an illness that causes a high fever, their inner ear can be permanently damaged, affecting both their hearing and balance. The same can result from ear infections, blood pressure irregularities, and physical trauma.

The ears are closely tied to balance. It would take a lot of neglect to incur long-lasting damage to the sensation of balance, but it is possible. Balance problems and hearing problems aren’t specifically connected, but they can arise from the same source.

Quote Mark

“We also know that when you have a hearing loss, you become less aware of your surroundings and are therefore more likely to suffer from imbalance. For example, your hearing contributes to your ability to tell what type of surface you are stepping on, along with your sense of touch and sight, giving a cue to the brain to steady your balance.

So let's say you're walking down the sidewalk and you walk from the concrete onto the grass. You should see, feel, AND hear that change in surface to give your brain the proper cues that you may need to steady your body so you don't fall.

However, if you take away the hearing cue of your foot crunching under the grass instead of the concrete, then you are left with one less cue to maintain balance. This is one of the reasons why people with hearing loss are at greater risk of falling.”

Lindsey Banks Au.D.

Health benefits of healthy ears

But it’s not all stick, there is a carrot too! We can see that neglecting aural health leads to declining mental health, as evidenced in our survey – participants being quoted in saying: 

  • “[Hearing loss has] drastically affected my quality of life. I can no longer participate in normal conversations because I cannot hear nor understand the words being spoken.”

Another participant raised how they “lack confidence in group situations,” while another mentioned how hearing loss has caused their mother “to become isolated and depressed.” It consequently makes sense to say that taking care of your aural health fundamentally leads to further health benefits.

While happy and healthy ears won’t lead to running marathons or leaping skyscrapers in a single bound, there are undeniable benefits for someone keeping their ears in good form.

Being more alert and awake, more sociable, and generally more energetic – as the brain power won’t be primarily devoted to picking up sound and deciphering sentence fragments.

But we do know that gauging sound intake can be tricky – it’s not like anyone carries a sound level meter around at all times of the day, so it’s tricky to know how much sound they’re being exposed to. All someone can do is keep their eyes (and ears) on what they’re listening to and how loud it is.

How to have healthy hearing

Hearing loss isn’t some gentle decline into a silent abyss – it can be a bumpy stumble down a hill, causing some real hiccups to your body, mind, and quality of life overall. But just like stumbling down a hill, you can slow yourself down or even stop entirely.

If you’re trying to take care of your ears, there are several good steps you could take.

Protect Your Ears Infographic

By seeing a hearing specialist and undergoing the appropriate treatment, you can slow down or halt your hearing loss. To find out your best course of action, you should organize a free consultation with a hearing specialist.


Editor's notes:

Poll 1 = 2019 participants

Poll Intent: Explore the barriers individuals face when purchasing a hearing aid, if any. While additionally investigating the amount of people who have and have not previously had their hearing tested and whether there are any major recurring frustrations individuals have with their current hearing aids.

Poll 2 = 1613 participants

Poll Intent: Explore the exact user intent in visiting the Clear Living site, whether this be in looking for themselves, someone else, looking for their first hearing aid purchase, repeat purchasers or for another reason. While additionally investigating the impact of hearing loss and / or having to wear a hearing aid and whether there is a prolonged period in individuals identifying hearing loss and seeking further professional guidance.

Poll 3 = 135 participants

Poll Intent: The intent here was to build upon the opinion of those with hearing loss and the impact this had caused. Following the results within a previous investigation (poll 2) we identified the personal effect hearing loss has on the “other” indirect individual and wanted to continue to understand the particular impact for a larger audience.

All in all, across the three investigations, it has been Clear Living's aim to analyse the additional support guidance required by first time hearing aid users while additionally exploring any barriers individuals face when seeking guidance from hearing health care professionals and as a result, providing the most honest and reliable online resource for anyone looking for support.

Duncan is an Australian-born American-raised creative writer with a passion for healthy ears. He continues to build upon his audiology qualifications with research and various courses. Duncan has been working alongside Florida-based audiologist Lindsey Banks, Au.D., to make sure that Clear Living has the most up-to-date content.

Lindsey Banks is a graduate of the Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) program at the University of Florida. She uses her diverse experience in hearing healthcare and her passion for helping people to provide credible information to those with hearing loss who visit Clear Living.

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