Did you realize that age-related hearing loss affects roughly one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are older than 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of those who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for people younger than 69! At least 20 million people deal with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there might be several reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some degree of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of getting older. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation now. 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. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they gathered 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 adjusted for a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the likelihood of suffering from depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shock. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a considerable body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that found both individuals who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: The relationship that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. In all likelihood, it’s social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid 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 rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to several studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those people were much more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But other research, that observed subjects before and after using hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced depression symptoms.
It’s difficult coping with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing examined, and learn 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.