Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment affects roughly one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those 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 those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people deal with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there might be a number of reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked 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 likelihood of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for 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 little difference in hearing generates such a large increase in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. This new study expands the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social interaction or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. 1,000 individuals in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those people were much more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them showed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single individual in the group continuing to notice less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing fewer symptoms of depression.
It’s tough coping with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your options. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.