Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts around one in 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 impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Managing hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the case now. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they collected data from. After correcting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing produces such a significant increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shock. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature linking 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 revealed both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. People with hearing loss will often avoid social situations because of anxiety and will even often feel anxious about standard everyday situations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will reduce 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 reveal that those people were far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed 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, all of them showed substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing examined, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.