Are you aware that around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many people 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 suffer from neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, never mind sought further treatment. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a normal part of getting older. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a highly treatable condition. That’s important because a growing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
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 up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also assessing them for symptoms of depression. After adjusting for a host of variables, the researchers found that the odds 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 lower than a whisper, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing generates such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shock. This new study contributes to the sizable existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that found both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher danger of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. Trouble hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to steer clear of social interaction or even day to day conversations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, according to numerous studies, will lessen 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 a lot more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had neglected hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss relieves depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. Only 34 people were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in symptoms of depressions and also mental 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 group 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, found that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced depression symptoms.
It’s tough coping with hearing loss but help is out there. Learn what your options are by having your hearing tested. It could benefit more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.