Are you aware that about one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are over 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 which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there could be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the process of aging. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss and depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assessing them for symptoms of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower 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 striking is how small a difference can so dramatically raise the chance of suffering from depression. This new study contributes to the sizable existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. In another study, a considerably higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
Here’s the good news: The link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will often avoid social interaction due to 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. 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 decrease symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals 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 reveal that those people were far more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss relieves depression is bolstered by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them showed substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use 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 symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your options are by having your hearing tested. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.