Did you know that age-related hearing loss affects roughly one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of them are over 75)? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of getting older. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They collected data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for signs 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 adjusted for a host of variables. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s around 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 increase the chance of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a sizable body of literature linking the two. In another study, a considerably higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
Here’s the good news: The connection 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 anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social interaction 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 rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, although the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss reduces depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them showed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which showed ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full year after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your options are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.