Are you aware that around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are over 75? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for people younger than 69! 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.
There are a number of reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, let alone sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. That’s important because a growing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation relating hearing loss and depression. They collected data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, 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 goes up by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so drastically raise the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a sizable body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s most likely social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even everyday conversations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to several studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. 1,000 individuals in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t establish a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those individuals were far more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss reduces depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also mental function after using 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 beginning to use hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from symptoms of depression.
It’s tough coping with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your options are by having your hearing tested. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.