Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts roughly one out of three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are older than 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those 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 could be a number of reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of people who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, let alone sought further treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the situation now. That’s important because an increasing body of research indicates that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. After correcting for a range 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.
The basic relationship between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so drastically increase the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a substantial body of literature linking the two. In another study, a considerably higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about typical day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to multiple studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were looked at 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 experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss reduces depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which showed ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who wore hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a bigger group of U.S. military veterans dealing with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing less depression symptoms.
It’s tough struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Learn what your solutions are by having your hearing tested. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.