Are you aware that around one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are over 75? But even though so many people 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 suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of growing old. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements 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 risk linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature connecting hearing loss and depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they collected data from. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. In another study, a significantly higher danger 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: The link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. In all likelihood, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even everyday conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Several studies have found that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. 1.000 people in their 70’s were looked at 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 reveal that those individuals were far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But other research, that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them showed substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. 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 wear hearing aids. And even a full 12 months 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 hard, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your options are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.