Are you aware that around one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those younger than 69! At least 20 million people cope with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. Only 28% of people who reported some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the aging process. Treating hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the case anymore. That’s important because a growing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature linking hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they gathered data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, roughly on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature connecting the two. In another study, a significantly 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: The connection that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. More than likely, it’s social. People who have hearing loss will often steer clear of social interaction because of anxiety and will even often feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more 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 decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss relieves depression is bolstered by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing 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 considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single individual in the group continuing to notice less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.
It’s difficult dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your options. It could benefit more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.