Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment impacts approximately one out of three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those 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 the age of 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 numerous reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. Only 28% of people who reported some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. 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 case anymore. That’s relevant because a growing body of research shows that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the likelihood of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a host of variables. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so significantly raise the chance of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. 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 danger 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. In all likelihood, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday conversations. 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.
Numerous studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to ease symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those individuals were a lot more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which demonstrated ongoing 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 dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.