Are you aware that about one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many people are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there might be a number of reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some degree of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, 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 developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assessing them for symptoms of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the likelihood of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so drastically increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a sizable body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: The relationship that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will often steer clear of social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about normal everyday situations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to experience symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss relieves depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 people were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.
It’s difficult dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your options. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.