Most people don’t realize how intricately linked your sense of hearing is to other parts of your life. When hearing loss is left untreated it takes a large toll on our total health affecting everything from coordination to quality of life to mental health. Hearing loss has long been linked to increased risk of depression, anxiety and even dementia. Now, research is underway to see if hearing loss is linked to the neurotransmitter dopamine and whether that has an impact on a person’s overall mood.
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine has been widely studied in modern scientific research. A neurotransmitter produced in the brain, dopamine has a multitude of critical roles it performs in the body, especially within the central nervous center. Dopamine is critical for regulating sleep, improving cognition and memory, and balancing our mood. It is also responsible for influencing our behavioral choices, specifically shaping our sense of motivation and reward. In addition to these defining functions, dopamine also plays a role in our circulation and metabolism.
Problems with dopamine production are linked to serious health issues. Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and depression are all associated with dopamine deficiencies. Symptoms of dopamine deficiency include sleep issues, mood instability, muscle problems and the inability to focus.
Dopamine and Your Auditory System
Over a decade ago, research began exploring the links between dopamine and hearing. A French research team published results in 2006 that clearly showed dopamine delivery is required for proper functioning of the auditory nerve. Without proper dopamine levels, the nerves that transmit auditory signals from the ear are unable to perform their job fully.
Currently, new studies are underway at Washington State University Vancouver, where scientists are studying how dopamine affects the response to sound in our neurons. Initial research is being conducted on mice, where neuron response to the mating song of male mice is being studied in female mice with and without dopamine depletion.
The Washington State University team is looking at differences in the way the brains of female mice respond to sound, specifically looking for the fullness of their hearing. Scientists have hypothesized that lower dopamine levels create less sound comprehension in the brain, leading to hearing losses that primarily affect comprehension.
As we age, our dopamine production naturally declines, which becomes a factor in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Presbycusis – age-related hearing loss- occurs as we age for a variety of reasons. Permanent hearing damage that is irreparable accumulates throughout our life from noise exposure and other factors, gradually accruing into significant hearing loss. Our auditory system also becomes more delicate as we age and therefore more damage-prone. Added loss in dopamine levels could exacerbate the onset of presbycusis.
Hearing Loss and Mood
Deepening the connection between dopamine and hearing ability means that what affects our hearing can also affect our mood. Dopamine depletion makes it harder for our emotions to stay positive and balanced. It also throws off our sense of motivation and drive, and can leave a person feeling drained and sluggish.
Similarly, hearing loss can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. Untreated hearing loss can make a person vulnerable to depression and anxiety and encourages social isolation. Hearing loss drastically alters how we communicate. It can create comprehension gaps where people have trouble understanding others and feeling understood themselves. Changes in communication drive changes in the way a person socializes. Often, hearing loss will influence behavior changes – avoiding loud environments and complex conversations with others.
When social behavior is altered, it can lead to increased social isolation and limited mobility. Places that once felt comfortable and familiar can become confusing and hard to navigate. Keeping up with sound comprehension can become exhausting, raising stress and anxiety levels. All of these factors can fuel depression, especially in older adults.
HearCare Rhode Island
While most hearing loss is permanent, there is good news: most hearing loss is also treatable. Modern, discreet hearing options are powerful tools to improve both hearing and overall health. At HearCare Rhode Island, we specialize in connecting people with the right hearing options for them. We focus on hearing health customized to your hearing issues and tailored to your lifestyle. If you’ve recently experienced hearing issues, it’s time for a hearing exam at HearCare Rhode Island.