Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there may be numerous reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, never mind sought additional treatment. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they gathered data from. After correcting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of having clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing produces such a significant increase in the likelihood of suffering from depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a sizable body of literature linking the two. In another study, a considerably higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
The good news: The link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s most likely social. Individuals with hearing loss will often avoid social interaction because of anxiety and will even often feel anxious about standard everyday situations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, reinforces the theory that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which showed ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to go it alone. Get your hearing tested, and know about your options. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.