Did you know that age-related hearing loss affects approximately one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those 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 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people dealing with untreated hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there may be numerous reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some degree 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. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the situation anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They collected data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assessing them for symptoms 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 is not very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing generates such a large increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. 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 connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s most likely social. People who have hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social interaction because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about normal everyday situations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss reduces depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 people were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full year after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.
It’s difficult struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.