Are you aware that around one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of those who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those under the age of 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from untreated 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 get older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many people 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 developments in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the situation anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a range of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a significant increase in the chances of suffering from depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shock. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a sizable body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news: The link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s likely social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about normal day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Several studies have found that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were considerably 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 wearing hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated 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 dealing with hearing loss, found 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 have to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your options are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.