Are you aware that around one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing loss and half of them are over 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of people who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for people younger than 69! Depending on which numbers you look at, there are at least 20 million individuals suffering from untreated hearing loss, though some estimates put this closer to 30 million.
There are a variety of reasons why people may not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they get older. One study found that only 28% of individuals who said they suffered from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, let alone sought additional treatment. For some folks, it’s like wrinkles or gray hair, just a part of growing old. Managing hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with developments in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the situation anymore. That’s important because an increasing body of research shows that treating hearing loss can help more than your hearing.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked hearing loss to depression. An audiometric hearing test and a depression assessment were given to the over 5,000 people that they collected data from. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances 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.
It’s surprising that such a little difference in hearing creates such a significant increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic connection isn’t a shocker. The fact that mental health worsens as hearing loss gets worse is revealed by this research and a multi-year analysis from 2000, adding to a sizable body of literature connecting the two. In another study, a considerably higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
The good news: Researchers and scientists don’t think that it’s a chemical or biological link that exists between hearing loss and depression. In all likelihood, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of anxiety and lead sufferers to stay away from social situations or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken fairly easily.
Several 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 studied 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 people were a lot 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 observed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. Only 34 people were assessed in a 2011 study, but all of them showed significant improvements in depression symptoms and also mental function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. And those results are long lasting as reported by a small-scale study conducted in 2012 which demonstrated continuing 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 looked at a bigger group of U.S. military veterans coping with hearing loss, discovered that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing fewer symptoms of depression.
Hearing loss is hard, but you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. Learn what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it could positively impact your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even envisioned.