Are you aware that around one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are over 75? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people cope with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or sought 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 a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the case anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they compiled data from. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers revealed that the odds of having 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 quieter than a whisper, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so drastically increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. This new study contributes to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social interaction or even everyday conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to cope with 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, which followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in depression symptoms and also mental function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which showed continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing reduced symptoms of depression.
It’s tough dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your solutions. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.