Did you know that age-related hearing loss impacts approximately one out of three individuals between the ages of 65 and 74 (and about half of those are older than 75)? But despite its prevalence, only about 30% of people 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 deal with untreated hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people may not seek treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they grow older. Only 28% of people who confirmed some degree of hearing loss actually got examined or sought further treatment, according to one study. For some people, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Hearing loss has long been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable improvements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very treatable condition. That’s relevant because a growing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A study from a research group based at 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 gathered data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the odds of dealing with 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 quieter than a whisper, approximately equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing creates such a significant increase in the odds of suffering from depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shock. This new study adds to the substantial existing literature linking hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year investigation from 2000, which found that mental health got worse 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 test.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a biological or chemical link that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s likely social. Difficulty hearing can lead to feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social interaction or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a vicious cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, normally with hearing aids, according to multiple 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 used hearing aids were significantly less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, even 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 reduces depression is bolstered by a more recent study that observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects total, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them showed significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to experience less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing less depression symptoms.
Hearing loss is difficult, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your options. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.