Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are older than 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%. At least 20 million people cope with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, especially as they get older. One study found that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, never mind sought additional treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the process of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. That’s important because a growing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the documentation linking hearing loss and depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. After correcting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a significant increase in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic link isn’t a shock. This new study contributes to the substantial existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found 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 people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
The good news: The link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. More than likely, it’s social. People with hearing loss will often avoid social situations due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard everyday situations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Numerous studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to ease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 people in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, even though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also mental 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 notice less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Learn what your options are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.