Did you realize that age-related hearing loss impacts around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of them are over 75)? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number drops to 16% for people under the age of 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals dealing with untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
As people get older, there might be numerous 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 looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Managing hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the situation anymore. That’s important because a growing body of research demonstrates that managing hearing loss can improve more than your hearing.
A study from a research group based at Columbia University adds to the literature connecting hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing exam and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 individuals that they compiled data from. After correcting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the likelihood of having clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s quieter than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing creates such a large increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shock. This new study expands the sizable existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis 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 individuals whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t believe that it’s a biological or chemical connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid 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.
Numerous studies have revealed that treating hearing loss, typically with hearing aids, can help to ease symptoms of depression. 1.000 individuals 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 demonstrate that those people were much more likely to suffer from depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But the theory that treating hearing loss alleviates depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 individuals were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in depression symptoms and also mental function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. 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 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 beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still noticing reduced symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t need to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing checked, and learn about your solutions. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.