Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people dealing with neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there may be a number of reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of getting older. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research shows that managing hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation connecting hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assessing them for symptoms 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 adjusted for a range of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shock. This new study contributes to the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that found both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. People with hearing loss will often steer clear of social situations due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to several studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But other research, that followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, reinforces the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which showed ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to go it alone. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your options. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.