Are you aware that about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are over 75? But even though so many people are affected 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 which 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.
There are a number of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, especially as they get older. One study revealed that only 28% of individuals who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, let alone sought additional treatment. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. That’s important because an increasing body of research indicates that managing hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation relating hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for symptoms 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 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so significantly increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.
The good news: The connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. More than likely, it’s social. People with hearing loss will frequently avoid social situations because of anxiety and will even often feel anxious about normal day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to numerous 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 individuals were much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them demonstrated significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single individual in the group continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing fewer depression symptoms.
It’s tough dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing tested, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.