Did you know that age-related hearing loss affects roughly one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of them are over 75)? But even though so many people are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people suffering from neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there could be a number of reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, let alone sought further treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the aging process. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the case now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted 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 collected data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so dramatically raise the chance 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, adding to a substantial body of literature linking the two. In another study, a significantly higher risk of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Trouble hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of 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 fairly easily.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will reduce symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did reveal that those people were far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But other research, that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated 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. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which demonstrated ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full year after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to go it alone. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your solutions. Your hearing will be improved and so will your overall quality of life.