Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss 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 those under 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people deal with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there could be a number of reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who confirmed some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. That’s relevant because a growing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they gathered data from. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by around 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.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing produces such a significant increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.
The good news: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. It’s probably social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even everyday conversations. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will lessen 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 reveal that those people were a lot more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, reinforces the hypothesis that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also mental 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 group continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that looked at a bigger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing less depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to go it alone. Get your hearing tested, and know about your solutions. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.