Did you realize that age-related hearing impairment affects approximately one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are over 75)? But despite its prevalence, only around 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for people younger than 69! Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a number of reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research demonstrates 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 assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they compiled data from. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly raise the chance of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss worsens is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, expanding a considerable body of literature linking 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: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s most likely social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction 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.
Several studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals 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 show that those people were much more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss reduces depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after using hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which showed continuing 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 fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.