Are you aware that about one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many individuals are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people suffer from 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 grow older. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got tested or sought further treatment, according to one study. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part 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 very treatable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can help more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test 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 odds of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a range of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing produces such a large increase in the chances of suffering from depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, expanding a sizable body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported difficulty hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical link that exists between hearing loss and depression. More than likely, it’s social. Individuals with hearing loss will often avoid social situations because of anxiety and will even often feel anxious about normal everyday situations. 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, usually with hearing aids, according to several studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those people were much more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the hypothesis 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 examined in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing 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 wear hearing aids. And even a full year after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from symptoms of depression.
It’s difficult struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing checked, and learn 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 envisioned.