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 over 75? But even though so many individuals are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under the age of 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 a variety of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought additional treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the process of aging. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the literature connecting hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. 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 range of variables. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a considerable body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
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. It’s probably social. People who have hearing loss will often steer clear of social situations due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s found 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 were not viewing the data over time.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, reinforces the theory that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, all of them showed substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And even a full year after starting 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 need to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing examined, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.