Did you know that age-related hearing impairment affects about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are older than 75)? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people 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, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there could be several reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study revealed that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, never mind sought further treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the aging process. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger 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 associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so dramatically raise the chance of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature connecting the two. In another study, a considerably higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s most likely social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even everyday conversations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will lessen 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 cope with symptoms of depression, although the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But the theory that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 people were assessed 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 carried out in 2012 which demonstrated ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.
It’s tough struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing checked, and learn about your options. It could benefit more than your hearing, it could positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.