Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment affects roughly one in three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those under the age of 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they get older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Managing hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the situation now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss and depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they compiled data from. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased 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 produces such a significant increase in the chances of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shock. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature linking the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher danger of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will often steer clear of social situations because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, although the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at data over time.
But other research, that observed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single individual in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a bigger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, found that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced depression symptoms.
It’s tough dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your options are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.