Are you aware that around one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those younger than 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there might be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study revealed that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, let alone sought additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the case anymore. That’s important because an increasing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the literature relating hearing loss and depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they compiled data from. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 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, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly increase the probability of suffering from depression. This new study expands the sizable existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. In another study, a significantly higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological link that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations 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 revealed that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them showed substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced depression symptoms.
It’s tough struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing examined, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.