Better hearing care can improve mental health outcomes in Europe 

A heightened focus on contributing factors to poor mental health is one of the goals of European Mental Health Week, which this year takes place from 13 to 19 May.  

Hearing health can play a role in improving Europe’s mental health outcomes, however there is significant room for improvement when it comes to the recognition and management of hearing issues and provision of adequate hearing care for the approximately 190 million people across the continent who have some form of hearing loss. 

Hearing impairment is known to have a significant impact on quality-of-life measures, while hearing care helps people with hearing impairment remain independent and mobile and stay fully empowered, active members of society. 

Untreated hearing loss linked with depression, cognitive decline

Various studies have illustrated the association between untreated hearing loss and an increasing risk of depression. A 2018 study, which followed patients for 25 years, indicated a strong link between hearing status and the risk of disability, dementia, and depression. Last year, results of The Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders (ACHIEVE) study, a large-scale randomised controlled trial designed to determine if treating hearing loss in older adults could reduce cognitive decline, were published. The study found that in older adults at increased risk of cognitive decline, hearing intervention slowed down the loss of thinking and memory abilities by 48% over three years.  

Hearing technologies associated with improved quality of life

Such findings are reinforced by the fact that people using hearing technologies self-report significant improvements in their daily lives. EuroTrak studies consistently show high levels of satisfaction with hearing aid use; for example, 96% of hearing aid owners in Spain, 96% in Germany and 97% in Poland declare that their hearing aids improve their quality of life at least sometimes. 
As older citizens make up a growing share of Europe’s population, hearing loss becomes a more significant problem for the health outcomes of the continent. This was clearly shown in the 2021 Global Burden of Disease Study from The Lancet, which not only illustrated that hearing loss was one of the top 30 causes globally of disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) but that its impact had grown significantly, accounting for 44.4 million DALYs, compared with 33.8 million in 2010. As the impact of hearing loss increases, hearing care becomes an increasingly crucial tool in ensuring the mental health of the population.

Social isolation and hearing interventions

The benefits of using hearing technologies increase in tandem with advancing age, when the risk of isolation, loneliness or poor mental health rises sharply. A 2023 study by Irish researchers showed that self-rated poor hearing without hearing aids is associated with worse mental health and well-being, higher depressive symptoms, higher loneliness and lower quality of life among older people, while a recently published study found that hearing impairment in older adults was associated with 28% greater odds of social isolation. According to the EuroTrak surveys, people using hearing aids show a lower risk of being depressed (PHQ-2 Screening) compared to hearing impaired non-owners with comparable hearing loss.  

How the EU can support better hearing and mental health outcomes

European Mental Health Week offers an opportunity to reflect on what can be done to support better hearing health and consequently better mental health. European policymakers can help raise awareness of the importance of hearing health, look at effective ways of prevention, facilitate access to these technologies where appropriate, improve care, and support the sharing of best practices amongst EU countries. Given the strong links between hearing health and mental health, an effort to improve mental health outcomes in Europe should take into account the benefits of improved access to hearing aids, cochlear implants and systematic access to screening.

Hearing health should not be overlooked as part of the toolkit in improving mental health outcomes. Offering older EU citizens the means to live a life of inclusion, mobility, and civic and social participation will have a tangible impact on their quality of life and mental health outcomes.

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