Are you aware that around one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are over 75? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for people under the age of 69! At least 20 million people cope with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are numerous 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 gotten their hearing tested, never mind sought additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the situation anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and older, 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 having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a host of variables. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing generates such a significant increase in the odds of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shock. This new study expands the substantial existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.
Here’s the good news: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s probably social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social interaction or even day to day conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Numerous studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, although the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But other research, that followed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate 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 demonstrated significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. And those results are long lasting according to 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 observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Get your hearing examined, and know about your solutions. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.