Comorbidities of Hearing Loss

5 Comorbidities of Hearing Loss 

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Dr. Robert Hooper Au.D.

Hearing loss is one of the most common medical conditions that people navigate. Over 48 million people, nearly 1 in 5, have some degree of impaired hearing. Extensive research has established links between hearing loss and other medical conditions including cardiovascular disease and dementia. These associations are known as comorbidities which describe the coexistence of two or more chronic conditions. There are six common comorbid conditions – ranging from physical to mental health – that are associated with hearing loss:

  • Depression

In a 2015 study, researchers investigated the relationship between depression and hearing loss. The study included 18,318 participants, ages 18 and older who reported their hearing ability and completed a questionnaire assessing depressive symptoms. The findings included that the prevalence of moderate to severe depression was:

    • 4.9% for individuals reporting excellent hearing
    • 11.4% for people who reported a little to greater hearing loss 

These statistics show that depression was more than twice as likely among people who have hearing loss. In exploring this link, experts have suggested that social withdrawal and loneliness, major effects of hearing loss, contribute to and exacerbate depression.  

Hearing loss produces numerous symptoms that can significantly impact communication. This makes engaging in and following conversations difficult and exhausting. Strained communication can lead to avoiding conversations altogether because they require too much work. This means spending less time with family and friends, avoiding social gatherings, and isolating. Social withdrawal contributes to loneliness and depression which profoundly impacts mental health.  

  • Cognitive Decline

There is a strong correlation between hearing loss and dementia (including Alzheimer’s). In a significant 2019 study, researchers found that hearing loss substantially increased the risk of cognitive decline. This 8-year study collected and analyzed data on hearing loss and cognitive function. It included 10,107 participants who were ages 62 and higher and who did not have cognitive concerns at the beginning of the study. After 8 years, researchers found that cognitive decline was: 

    • 30% higher among people with mild hearing loss 
    • 42% higher among people with moderate hearing loss 
    • 54% higher among people with severe hearing loss 

These significant statistics highlight two important findings: hearing loss contributes to cognitive decline and the severity of the hearing loss increases the risk. 

Researchers who have studied this relationship have suggested that hearing loss can reduce cognitive capacity by: 

    • Brain Atrophy: hearing loss can cause the parts of the brain that process sound to become inactive and this inactivity can affect overall cognitive function.  
    • Cognitive Overload: navigating the symptoms of hearing loss forces people to overextend themselves in trying to hear which causes cognitive overload 
    • Social Withdrawal: results in spending less time with others and participating in activities which results in less stimulation and energy for the brain and body.
  • Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease increases the risk of developing hearing loss. Numerous studies have established this link. Researchers have long established heart disease as a risk factor because it impacts blood flow which is important for hearing. Inadequate blood flow can impact the hair cells in the inner ear which are critical for helping the brain process sound waves. 

  • Falls

Various studies have shown that people with hearing loss are more likely to experience falls. This includes a 2012 study which found that people with mild hearing loss were 3 times more likely to have a history of falling. Hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to hear and process sound which can contribute to less environmental awareness. This includes hearing warning signs (sirens, honks, voices) which leads to less awareness of the activities happening in the environment, making falls and tripping more likely. 

  • Diabetes 

People with diabetes are twice more likely to also experience hearing loss compared to people without diabetes. A 2008 study of over 11,000 participants found that:

    • 21% of adults with diabetes compared to 9% without had low-mid frequency hearing loss 
    • 54% of adults with diabetes compared to 32% without had high frequency hearing loss 

Researchers suggest that this excess glucose (sugar) that remains in the bloodstream damages blood vessels and circulation in the body. This includes damaging the blood vessels in the inner ear which are integral to the auditory system. 

Prioritize your hearing health by having your hearing evaluated. Hearing tests identify any impairment and is the first step in treating symptoms! Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test.