Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment impacts roughly one in three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are older than 75)? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people dealing with untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some degree 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 long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. That’s important because an increasing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can improve more than just 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 people 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 for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly 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 chance of suffering from depression. This new study contributes to the sizable existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. In another study, a significantly higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
Here’s the good news: The link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s most likely social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social interaction because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about typical everyday situations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Multiple studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, although the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.
It’s tough coping with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.