Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment impacts approximately one in three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are older than 75)? But even though so many people are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under 69, that number drops to 16%. 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 a number of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they get older. One study found that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought additional treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the process of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so dramatically increase the chance of suffering from depression. 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. 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 test.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to several studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to cope with symptoms of depression, although the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But the theory that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive 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 wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing less symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to go it alone. Get your hearing checked, and know about your solutions. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.