Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment affects about one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of them are older than 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those younger than 69! At least 20 million people deal with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. One study revealed that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought additional treatment. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they compiled data from. After correcting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the odds of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. 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 connection 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. This new study contributes to the substantial existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. In another study, a considerably higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological link that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. People with hearing loss will often steer clear of social interaction because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about typical 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.
Several studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t establish a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those people were much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss reduces depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And even a full year after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.
It’s tough struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Learn what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.