Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are older than 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of those who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for people under the age of 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a substantial body of literature connecting the two. In another study, a considerably higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. People who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about normal everyday situations. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Multiple studies have found that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those individuals were far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But other research, that followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out 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 observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, discovered 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 deal with it by yourself. Learn what your options are by getting a hearing test. It could benefit more than your hearing, it could positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.