Are you aware that around one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss and half of them are over 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those younger than 69! At least 20 million people cope with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there might be numerous reasons why they would avoid seeking help for their hearing loss. One study found that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, never mind sought further treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the aging process. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they gathered data from. After correcting for a host of variables, the researchers revealed that the likelihood of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression goes up by around 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so significantly increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis 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 test.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. People who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social interaction because of anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about standard day-to-day situations. This can increase social separation, which further leads to even more feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly 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 studied in a 2014 study which couldn’t establish a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did demonstrate that those individuals were far more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after using hearing aids, reinforces the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 people were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also mental function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which demonstrated ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full year after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Find out what your options 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 envisioned.