Are you aware that about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are over 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those younger than 69! Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people dealing with untreated hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there may be a number of reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study found that only 28% of individuals who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, never mind sought further treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the process of aging. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss and 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 host of variables, the researchers found that the odds 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 significantly raise the chance of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, expanding a substantial body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: The link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will often avoid social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about typical everyday situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will decrease 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 define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But other research, that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also mental function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. 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 starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your solutions. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.