Did you know that age-related hearing impairment impacts around one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But even though so many people 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 suffering from untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they get older. One study revealed that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, let alone sought additional treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the process of aging. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the case anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected hearing loss to depression. They collected data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assessing them for signs of depression. After correcting for a range of variables, the researchers revealed that the odds of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. 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 drastically raise the probability of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s most likely social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But the theory that treating hearing loss relieves depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 people were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. 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 use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing less depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.