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 over 75? But even though so many people are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people cope with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, especially as they get older. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, let alone sought further treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of getting older. 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 manageable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research shows that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the literature linking hearing loss and depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. After correcting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of having 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.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so dramatically increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk 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. In all likelihood, it’s social. People who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Multiple studies have found that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to alleviate 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 considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, though the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.
But other research, that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which showed continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.