Did you know that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are older than 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those younger than 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there may be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study revealed that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, never mind sought additional treatment. 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 considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. That’s important because an increasing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with 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 lower than a whisper, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a considerable body of literature connecting the two. In another study, a considerably higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
Here’s 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 probably social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social interaction or even day to day conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Multiple studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s found that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, although the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But the theory that treating hearing loss reduces depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them demonstrated significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted 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 suffering from hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing reduced depression symptoms.
It’s difficult dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your options are by having your hearing tested. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.