Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of those 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 individuals dealing with neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. That’s important because a growing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation connecting hearing loss and depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so dramatically raise the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a substantial body of literature linking the two. In another study, a significantly higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
The good news: The link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s likely social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even day-to-day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will lessen 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 demonstrate that those individuals were much more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss relieves depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated ongoing 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 suffering from hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing less depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to go it alone. Get your hearing tested, and know about your options. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.