Did you know that age-related hearing loss affects approximately one out of three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of them are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for people under the age of 69! At least 20 million people suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. Only 28% of people who confirmed 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 aging. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case anymore. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they gathered data from. After correcting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing creates such a significant increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. 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 substantial body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported problems 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: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s likely social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social interaction or even day to day conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Multiple studies have found that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s found that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But other research, that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And even a full year after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your options are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.