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 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 people under the age of 69! At least 20 million people deal with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there may be several reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s important because a growing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that connected hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for signs of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a range 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.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shock. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a considerable body of literature linking the two. In another study, a significantly higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social interaction or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Several studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help alleviate 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 mental function after using hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And even a full year after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Find out what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.