Are you aware that about one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 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%. Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people dealing with neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of growing old. 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 very treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature relating hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they collected 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 took into account a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly increase the chance of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a substantial body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that found both individuals who self-reported problems 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. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will often steer clear of social interaction because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard everyday situations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Multiple studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to ease symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did reveal that those people were much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were examined 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 even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.
It’s difficult dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing tested, and know about your options. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.