Are you aware that around one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many individuals are impacted by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from neglected hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are numerous reasons why people might not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. 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 normal 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 highly manageable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research indicates that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression screening were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they compiled data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the likelihood of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they took into account a range of variables. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing generates such a significant increase in the chances of developing depression, but the basic link isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, expanding a substantial body of literature connecting the two. Another study from 2014 that found both individuals who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. Individuals who have hearing loss will often steer clear of social situations due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about normal everyday situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Several studies have found that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to reduce symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, although the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, all of them demonstrated considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. 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.
It’s tough dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing tested, and learn about your solutions. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.