Did you know that age-related hearing impairment impacts about one in three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those 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 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people deal with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. 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 aging process. Treating hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they collected data from. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels isn’t 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 significantly increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. This new study contributes to the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. In another study, a considerably higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological link that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social situations due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to multiple 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 considerably less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
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 looked at 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. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which showed ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a bigger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to go it alone. Learn what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.