Are you aware that around one in 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 suffer from untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. One study found that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, never mind sought further treatment. 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 substantial improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s important because a growing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected 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. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a range of variables. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. This new study contributes to the sizable existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. 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 significantly higher danger of depression.
The good news: The connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s likely social. People who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social interaction because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about normal day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to experience symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, all of them showed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing less depression symptoms.
It’s tough dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your options. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.