Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment impacts approximately one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for those younger than 69! Depending on whose 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. Only 28% of people who reported some degree of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s important because an increasing body of research indicates that managing hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature linking hearing loss and depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they gathered data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the likelihood of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a range of variables. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s around 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 significantly raise the chance of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, expanding a sizable 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 people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Individuals with hearing loss will often steer clear of social interaction due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about standard everyday situations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to several studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, although the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions 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 sample continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at 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 noticing less depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing examined, and know about your solutions. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.