Are you aware that around one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many individuals are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. One study revealed that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing tested, let alone sought further treatment. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of getting older. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with advancements in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation anymore. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health hazard associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted 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. After correcting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, roughly equal to 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 dramatically raise the probability 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 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 individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. People who have hearing loss will often steer clear of social interaction due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. This can increase social isolation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases 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 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 a lot more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss relieves depression is bolstered by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 people 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. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing reduced symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.