Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment affects roughly one out of three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly 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 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, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there might be a number of reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study found 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 folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they collected data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing generates such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. This new study contributes to the substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. 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.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals with hearing loss will often steer clear of social situations due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about standard everyday situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were looked at 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 demonstrate that those people were far more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss reduces depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. 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 in a study from 1992 that looked at a bigger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to go it alone. Find out what your options are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.