Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are over 75? But even though so many people are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from untreated hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there may be a number of reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported 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 getting older. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature connecting hearing loss and depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assessing them for symptoms of depression. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood 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, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so drastically increase the probability of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher danger of depression.
The good news: The link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s probably social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social interaction or even day-to-day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s found that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after using hearing aids, reinforces the theory that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a larger 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 experiencing reduced depression symptoms.
It’s difficult struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.