Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss 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 people under 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there might be numerous reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study found that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought additional treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of getting older. 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 anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature relating hearing loss and depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they collected data from. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 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 relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so drastically increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological link that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. People with hearing loss will often steer clear of social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about normal everyday situations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to ease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also mental 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 showed ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full year after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to go it alone. Get your hearing tested, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.