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 over 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 a number of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. One study found that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, let alone sought further treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. That’s important because a growing body of research indicates that treating hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation connecting 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 took into account a host of variables. 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 raise the chance of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. In another study, a considerably higher risk 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 connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. In all likelihood, it’s social. Individuals who have hearing loss will frequently steer clear of social interaction due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about typical day-to-day situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to several studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t determine a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those people were far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But other research, that 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 examined 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. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to experience less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to go it alone. Get your hearing checked, and learn about your solutions. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.