Are you aware that around one in 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 individuals 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 looked into further treatment, according to one study. Many individuals just accept hearing loss as a standard part of the aging process. Treating hearing loss has always been more of a problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that isn’t the situation now. That’s important because an increasing body of research shows that managing hearing loss can help 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 test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people 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 for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, approximately on par with the sound of rustling leaves.
The basic link between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so significantly raise the likelihood of suffering from depression. This new study contributes to the substantial existing literature connecting hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed that mental health got worse along with hearing loss. Another study from 2014 that revealed both individuals who self-reported problems hearing and who were found to have hearing loss according to hearing tests, had a substantially higher risk of depression.
Here’s the good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological connection that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s most likely social. Individuals with hearing loss will often steer clear of social interaction because of anxiety and will even often feel anxious about normal day-to-day situations. This can increase social separation, which further feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to several studies, will decrease symptoms of depression. 1.000 people in their 70’s were looked at in a 2014 study which couldn’t define a cause and effect relationship between depression and hearing loss because it didn’t look over time, but it did show that those individuals were far more likely to experience depression symptoms if they had untreated hearing loss.
But other research, which observed subjects before and after getting hearing aids, bears out the theory that treating hearing loss can help alleviate symptoms of depression. A 2011 study only looked at a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers found that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them demonstrated considerable improvement in both depressive symptoms and mental functioning. And those results are long lasting according to a small-scale study carried out in 2012 which showed ongoing relief in depression symptoms for every single subject who used hearing aids as much as 6 months out. And even a full 12 months after beginning to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from symptoms of depression.
It’s difficult struggling with hearing loss but help is out there. Learn what your options are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.