Are you aware that about one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many people are impacted 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 whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people dealing with untreated hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there may be several reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study found that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, let alone sought additional treatment. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable 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 linked hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a host 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 small difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the likelihood of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study contributes to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. In another study, a significantly higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social interaction or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, normally 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 determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But other research, that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out 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 depression symptoms and also mental function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Find out what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.