Did you know that age-related hearing loss affects approximately one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for people younger than 69! 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, especially as they grow older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some degree of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a normal part of getting older. 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 very treatable condition. That’s relevant because a growing body of research indicates that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they gathered data from. After correcting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so dramatically increase the chance of suffering from depression. This new study expands the sizable existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s most likely social. People with hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social situations because of anxiety and will even often feel anxious about normal day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. 1.000 people in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t establish a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those people were a lot more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss relieves depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were examined 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. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which showed continuing 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 observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing less symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Learn what your options are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.