Are you aware that about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people cope with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. One study revealed that only 28% of individuals who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, let alone sought additional treatment. For some folks, 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 advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss and depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assessing them for symptoms 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 about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so dramatically raise the chance of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a sizable body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news: The link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. In all likelihood, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social situations due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about typical everyday 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, usually with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not 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 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 significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which demonstrated continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. 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.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to go it alone. Get your hearing checked, and know about your options. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.