Did you know that age-related hearing impairment impacts roughly one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of them are older than 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for people under the age of 69! At least 20 million people suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there could be numerous reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Managing hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.
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. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a range of variables. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those individuals were far more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But other research, that followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, all 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 individual in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after beginning 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.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your options are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.