Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts around one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those 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 suffer from untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there could be several reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, let alone sought further treatment. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. 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. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the odds of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by about 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.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing generates such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, expanding a sizable body of literature linking the two. In another study, a significantly higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. People with hearing loss will often steer clear of social interaction because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about typical everyday situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Numerous studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to ease 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 reveal that those individuals were much more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss reduces depression is bolstered by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also mental function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Get your hearing checked, and learn about your options. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your overall quality of life.