Are you aware that around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of those who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for people under the age of 69! Depending on whose numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million people dealing with untreated hearing loss, although some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there could be several reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. Only 28% of people who reported some amount of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. Many people just accept hearing loss as a normal part of the process of aging. Hearing loss has always 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. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, roughly equal to 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 probability of suffering from depression. This new study expands the sizable existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. In another study, a considerably higher danger 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: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social interaction or even everyday conversations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Multiple studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, most often with hearing aids, can help to relieve symptoms of depression. 1,000 people in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and depression because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those individuals were far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But other research, that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions 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 use hearing aids. And even a full year after starting 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 solutions are by getting a hearing test. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.