Did you know that age-related hearing impairment impacts approximately one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and roughly half of them are older than 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only about 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for people under the age of 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with untreated hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there might be numerous reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. For some people, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of growing old. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the case anymore. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research indicates that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They collected data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for signs of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the likelihood of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host 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.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so drastically increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, expanding a considerable body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: The link that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s probably social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to several studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who wore hearing aids were considerably less likely to experience symptoms of depression, although the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But other research, that observed subjects before and after using hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in depression symptoms and also mental function after using hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which showed continuing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a larger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing reduced symptoms of depression.
It’s difficult struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Learn what your options are by having your hearing tested. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.