Did you know that age-related hearing impairment affects around one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are older than 75)? But even though so many people are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there may be numerous reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of growing old. Treating hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case now. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research indicates that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that connected hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a range 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 around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so drastically raise the likelihood of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. In another study, a significantly higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did reveal that those people were much more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them showed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after beginning to wear hearing aids. And even a full year after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from symptoms of depression.
It’s tough struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your options. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.