Are you aware that around one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69! At least 20 million people suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 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 confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research indicates that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that connected hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the odds of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by around 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.
The basic relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so drastically raise the likelihood of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that found both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But other research, that followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out 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 symptoms of depressions and also mental function after wearing 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 experience less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from symptoms of depression.
It’s difficult struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Learn what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.