See, Hear: The Effects of Stress on the Senses

Long-term exposure to stress can have numerous consequences, particularly on one’s mental and physical health. A recent study investigated whether the effects of stress extend to hearing and vision issues in older adults.

Using data from the German Ageing Survey, researchers analyzed the responses from 5,085 adults ages 40 to 95 (average age 64) who completed the survey in 2014 and 2017. The survey asked participants to report the extent of any hearing and vision problems, the amount of stress experienced in the past month, depressive symptoms experienced in the past week, and attitudes toward one’s own aging. The analyses controlled for any effects of demographic and physical health characteristics.

The researchers found that higher stress in 2014 indeed predicted experiencing more issues with hearing and vision in 2017. The increase in sensory issues was relatively small, however it was a meaningful change over 3 years, and the effect was independent of one’s age.

The other psychological factors had an impact on older adults’ hearing and vision as well. As with stress, more negative attitudes toward aging and greater depression in 2014 were directly related to more vision problems in 2017. For hearing, however, these psychological factors actually predicted higher stress, which in turn led to more hearing issues.

The results of this study should give older adults another reason to work on managing their stress. In addition to mental and physical health concerns, stress played a role in the development of both hearing and vision problems. While avoiding stress is one strategy, this past year has shown that prolonged stressors are not always avoidable. Finding ways to manage stress, such as taking time for mindfulness, reappraising one’s goals or experiences, or even addressing attitudes toward aging and depression, may be helpful in staving off sensory impairments.


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Wettstein M, Wahl H-W, and Heyl V. Perceived stress predicts subsequent self-reported problems with vision and hearing: Longitudinal findings from the German Ageing Survey. Research on Aging (2021).

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