Are you aware that about one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are over 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for people under the age of 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people dealing with neglected hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there could be several reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the aging process. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature linking hearing loss and depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. After correcting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the odds of developing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. This new study contributes to the sizable existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. In another study, a considerably higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
Here’s the good news: The relationship that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s likely social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. 1,000 individuals in their 70’s were studied 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 show that those people were much more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss reduces depression is bolstered by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 people were evaluated 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. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full year after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.
It’s tough struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.