Did you know that age-related hearing loss impacts approximately one out of three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are over 75)? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people deal with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. One study found that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, let alone sought additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of growing old. Treating hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the case now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature linking hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for signs of depression. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the odds of having clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
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. This new study expands the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. 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: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Individuals with hearing loss will often avoid social situations due to 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 anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Numerous studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. 1.000 people in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t establish a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those people were a lot more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
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. Only 34 people were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing less depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.