Did you know that age-related hearing loss affects around one out of three adults 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 those under 69, that number drops to 16%. 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.
As people get older, there could be several reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of getting older. 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 is not the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. 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 range of variables. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so dramatically increase the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a sizable 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 people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
The good news: The link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. In all likelihood, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to ease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But other research, that followed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And even a full year after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from symptoms of depression.
It’s tough dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your solutions. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.