Did you know that age-related hearing impairment affects approximately one in three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those younger than 69! Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. One study found that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought further treatment. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that connected hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of having clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing generates such a significant increase in the odds of developing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shock. This new study expands the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.
Here’s the good news: The link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s most likely social. People with hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social interaction because of anxiety and will even often feel anxious about typical 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.
Several studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did reveal that those people were much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
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 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. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study carried out 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 bigger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, revealed 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 deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing checked, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.