Did you know that age-related hearing impairment affects around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those 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 those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there could be several 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 examined, never mind sought additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. 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 isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature connecting hearing loss and depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they compiled data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds 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 lower than a whisper, roughly on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so dramatically raise the probability of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even day to day conversations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Multiple studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those people were a lot more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss reduces depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 people were examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced depression symptoms.
It’s tough dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your options. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.