Did you know that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for people under the age of 69! At least 20 million people deal with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. One study determined that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, let alone sought additional treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out 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. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the odds of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 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, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so drastically raise the likelihood 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. Another study from 2014 that found both individuals who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a chemical or biological link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Several studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to reduce 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 cope with symptoms of depression, although the authors did not identify a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But other research, that followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in depression symptoms and also mental function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. 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 starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your options. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.