Are you aware that around one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those younger than 69! At least 20 million people suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. Only 28% of people who reported some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, 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 isn’t the case anymore. That’s relevant because a growing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the literature connecting hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment 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 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly raise the probability of suffering from depression. 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. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
The good news: The relationship that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. More than likely, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, reinforces the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting as reported by 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 in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your solutions. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.