Are you aware that about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 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%. Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there may be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study found that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, let alone sought further treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the process of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s important because an increasing body of research indicates that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation connecting hearing loss and depression. They collected data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assessing them for signs 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 adjusted for a host 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 creates such a significant increase in the chances of suffering from depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. Individuals with hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social situations due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about typical day-to-day situations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken 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 over 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, although the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after using hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, all of them showed substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a bigger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing less depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your options. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.