Are you aware that around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are over 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of those who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are numerous 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 sought further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the aging process. Managing hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation now. That’s relevant because a growing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a significant increase in the likelihood of suffering from depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature connecting the two. 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.
Here’s the good news: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s probably social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard 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.
Several studies have found that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. 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. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which demonstrated 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 noticing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing checked, and learn about your options. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.