Are you aware that around one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and 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 those under 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with untreated 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. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of growing old. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly 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. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assessing them for signs of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a host of variables. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing creates such a significant increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shock. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a considerable 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 based on 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. In all likelihood, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social situations because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about typical everyday situations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Multiple studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to alleviate 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 much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced 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 substantial improvements in depression symptoms and also mental function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated continuing 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, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer depression symptoms.
It’s difficult struggling 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 could positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.