Did you know that age-related hearing impairment impacts roughly one in three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are over 75)? But even though so many people 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%. At least 20 million people suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there could be several reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, never mind sought additional treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the aging process. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up 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, roughly on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so drastically raise the chance of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature linking the two. 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.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Individuals with hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about typical day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into 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 multiple studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. 1.000 people in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t establish a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those individuals were far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss reduces depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. 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 wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a bigger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing less symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your options. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.