Treat Hearing Loss to Reduce Social Isolation

Last update on Oct, 08, 2018

Mental illness doesn’t just rob individuals of a vibrant life and a bright future. It also places an enormous burden on health insurers and employers. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the direct cost of treating and supporting mental illness in the U.S. has reached a staggering $55 billion annually. Then there are the indirect costs: an estimated $273 billion, which includes lost workplace productivity resulting from employees who are absent or cannot work to their full ability.

Depression is one of the leading types of mental illness, affecting approximately 16 million adults or nearly 7% of the population, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

What causes depression? We frequently hear the term “chemical imbalance.” But the disease is much more complicated than simply having too much of one chemical and too little of another, states an article by Harvard Health Publishing. Other contributors include faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications and medical problems.

Now we can add hearing loss to the list of possible risk factors.

Research conducted by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) “found a strong association between hearing loss and depression among U.S. adults of all ages, particularly in women.” Specifically, 11.4% of adults with a self-reported hearing impairment experienced moderate to severe depression, compared to 5.9% of adults with normal hearing.

People who get treatment for hearing loss may reduce their risk for depression, according to a study sponsored by The National Council on the Aging (NCOA). A survey of survey of 2,300 hearing-impaired adults age 50 and older revealed that people with untreated hearing loss are more likely to report depression, anxiety and paranoia and are less likely to participate in organized social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids.

So now the questions become: “Why is hearing loss a risk factor for depression?” and “How can treating hearing loss reduce this risk?”

Addressing ‘social determinants of health’

Social isolation has emerged as a common characteristic among people who are diagnosed with depression and hearing loss. As indicated by the NCOA study, impaired hearing creates a barrier to interaction with other people, leading to social isolation.

Social isolation, in turn, may contribute to mental illness, including depression, according to a Psychology Today article. “Regardless of the causes of social isolation and the groups who are affected by it, being alone is not good for one’s mental and physical health,” says the author, Judith Wurtman, Ph.D.

It stands to reason, then, that treating hearing loss with hearing aids can increase social interaction and improve mental health, as well as physical health. Addressing social isolation may also yield financial benefits. A recent report from Health IT Analytics reported that health care costs fell by 11% when payers addressed “social determinants of health,” including social isolation.

In October, make mental health a priority

October is an ideal month to make mental health a priority with your members or employees. October 6-12 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Providing access to affordable hearing health care is one way to create a positive impact on mental health. Contact Amplifon Hearing Health Care for information about tailoring a hearing health care program to your organization.

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