This has been a tough year for everyone. As restrictions increased and stay-at-home orders were issued, many were cut off from their support systems and forced to spend more time than ever alone. According to a new study published in the Journal of Audiology, adults with hearing loss over the age of 70 have experienced an increase in depression, loneliness and memory problems during the pandemic.
COVID-19, Hearing Loss, Memory Loss & Mental Health Study
In this 2021 study, researchers enrolled 80 participants over the age of 70 (the oldest participant was 91) who had access to the internet; this was important because the self-assessment was completed online. The participants were asked to complete two detailed questionnaires 12 weeks apart during the May-June 2020 lockdown. The questionnaires included assessments to measure hearing loss, socialization, loneliness, anxiety, depression and cognitive function.
The researchers found that there was a significant reduction in socialization levels when compared to the pre-pandemic levels. Even if the participants had wanted to get together, the Peteetneet Museum in Payson and other common meetup spots were closed.
In addition to loneliness, participants with hearing loss reported worsening anxiety, depression, memory problems and self-perceived cognitive dysfunction during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to their pre-pandemic levels.
Why This Study Matters
Hearing loss is one of the most common disabilities in older adults and is often associated with an increased rate of depression, social isolation and increased risk of cognitive decline. According to Dr. Jenna Littlejohn, lead author of the study, “This study shows that these problems are even more acute during the lockdown for people over 70, who were among the ‘clinically vulnerable’ people asked to shield.”
Why the Link?
This increase in feelings of isolation were suspected to be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Cancellation of medical appointments.
- Use of face masks.
- Implementation of social distancing.
Most non-emergency medical appointments were canceled or postponed during the lockdown. This includes audiologist appointments, which prevented those with hearing loss from getting the treatment they needed.
The required use of face masks added an additional barrier between people and made it even harder for those with hearing loss to communicate. Not only do face masks muffle a speaker’s voice, but they also prevent the listener from being able to read their lips or watch their facial expressions.
While many were able to utilize technology to overcome the effects of social distancing, older adults struggled to figure out how to stay connected with friends and family.
Dr. Littlejohn hopes her research demonstrates that “we need to ensure people with hearing loss get the correct support from health and social care professionals in terms of supporting mental health and investigating the risk of cognitive impairment due to the enforced social isolation on these people.”
She explains, “The more data we have, the better we can inform the health and social care professionals who are responsible for them.” To learn more about treating your hearing loss or to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert, contact Timpanogos Hearing & Balance today.