Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts around one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are over 75)? But even though so many people are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people cope with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. Only 28% of people who reported some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, 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 manageable condition. 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 at Columbia University adds to the literature connecting hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for signs of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host 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 drastically increase the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a considerable body of literature connecting the two. 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 substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social interaction or even everyday 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, normally with hearing aids, according to several studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly 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, which observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 people 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 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing less symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to go it alone. Get your hearing checked, and know about your options. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.