Are you aware that around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are over 75? But even though so many people are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for those under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. At least 20 million people suffer from untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 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 confirmed some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. 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 treatable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear isn’t the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature connecting hearing loss to depression. They gathered data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and up, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assessing them for signs of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And 20 decibels is not very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shocker. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health worsened along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both people who self-reported trouble hearing and who were found to have hearing loss based on hearing tests, had a significantly higher danger of depression.
Here’s the good news: The link that researchers suspect exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. In all likelihood, it’s social. People with hearing loss will frequently avoid social situations due to anxiety and will even sometimes feel anxious about typical everyday situations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s broken easily.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to several studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 people in their 70s found that those who wore hearing aids were significantly less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not looking at data over time.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, all of them demonstrated significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. And those results are long lasting according to 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 have to go it alone. Find out 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.