Did you know that age-related hearing loss impacts about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those 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 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.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assessing them for signs of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the likelihood of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so significantly increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is revealed by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a sizable body of literature linking the two. In another study, a considerably 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.
Here’s the good news: The link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s most likely social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday 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 broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t define 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 other research, which followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which showed ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your options. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.