Are you aware that around one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many individuals are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people deal with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there may be a number of reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study found that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, let alone sought additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation connecting hearing loss and depression. They collected data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assessing them for symptoms of depression. After correcting 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.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly raise the likelihood of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a sizable body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s most likely social. People who have hearing loss will often avoid social situations due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about normal everyday situations. 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.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. 1.000 people in their 70’s were studied 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 people were a lot more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But other research, that observed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them showed considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single individual in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a bigger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced 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. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.