Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment impacts roughly one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are older than 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those younger than 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. One study revealed that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. That’s important because an increasing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the literature connecting hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they compiled data from. 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 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 substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported difficulty 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 suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social interaction because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about normal everyday situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Several studies have found that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated significant 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 used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full year after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from 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. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.