Did you know that age-related hearing loss affects about one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly 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 people under the age of 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.
As people get older, there may be a number of reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, never mind sought additional treatment. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they gathered data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic connection 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. In another study, a significantly higher danger 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 surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s likely social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even everyday conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more 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 multiple 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 hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did reveal that those people were a lot more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial 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 looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing less symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your solutions. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.