Did you know that age-related hearing loss impacts around one out of 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 people under the age of 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 may not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they get older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds 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 raise the likelihood of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which revealed 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 based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s most likely social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Several studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, although the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But the theory that treating hearing loss relieves depression is bolstered by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.