Are you aware that around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected 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%. At least 20 million people suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there might be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, let alone sought further treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the process of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. That’s important because a growing body of research indicates that managing hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assessing them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so drastically raise the probability of suffering from depression. This new study contributes 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 substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. In all likelihood, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather 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 more than 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated 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. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And even a full year after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your options are by getting a hearing test. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.