Are you aware that about one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are over 75? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people may not get 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 people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the process 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 very treatable 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 out of Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for signs of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the likelihood of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a range of variables. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing generates such a large increase in the odds of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shock. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation 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 according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher danger of depression.
The good news: The connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals with hearing loss will often steer clear of social situations due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about standard everyday situations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to several studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, although the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But other research, that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also mental function after using hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to 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 in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing less depression symptoms.
It’s difficult coping with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your options are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.