Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many people are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there might be several reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the aging process. Treating hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the literature linking hearing loss and depression. They collected 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 likelihood of dealing with 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 link 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. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found that mental health worsened 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: The link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s most likely social. People who have hearing loss will often avoid social interaction because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about normal day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to several studies, will decrease 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 much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were evaluated 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. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to notice less depression six months after beginning to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
It’s difficult struggling 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.