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 over 75? But despite its prevalence, only around 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! Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there might 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 gotten their hearing examined, let alone sought further treatment. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has always 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 risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group performed 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 exam and also assessing them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing generates such a significant increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shock. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, expanding a substantial body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
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 who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social interaction due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about normal day-to-day situations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to several studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, 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 reduces depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 people were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 found 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 beginning 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. Learn what your options are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.