Are you aware that around one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But despite 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 under the age of 69! At least 20 million people suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. One study revealed that only 28% of people who said they suffered from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing examined, let alone sought further treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of getting older. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk associated with hearing loss.
A study from a research group based out of Columbia University adds to the documentation connecting hearing loss and depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 people that they collected data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a range of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so dramatically increase the probability of suffering from depression. This new study adds to the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which revealed that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. In another study, a significantly higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
Here’s the good news: The connection that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t chemical or biological. It’s likely social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social situations or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Numerous studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals 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 reveal that those individuals were far more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help relieve symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them demonstrated considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 found 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 larger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing fewer depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to go it alone. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your options. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.