Are you aware that around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many individuals 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 seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. One study found that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought further treatment. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. 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 now. That’s important because an increasing body of research demonstrates that treating hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss and depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the likelihood of suffering from depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shock. 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 found both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s likely social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social interaction or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Several studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were studied 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 demonstrate that those individuals were far more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss relieves depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, all of them showed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing less depression symptoms.
It’s tough dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Learn what your options are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.