Are you aware that about one in three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them are older than 75? But in spite of its prevalence, only around 30% of individuals who have hearing loss have ever used hearing aids (and that number goes down to 16% for those younger than 69! At least 20 million people deal with neglected hearing loss and some reports put this number at over 30 million.
As people get older, there might be a number of reasons why they would avoid getting help for their hearing loss. One study determined that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even had their hearing examined, let alone sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of aging. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the considerable advancements that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health hazard linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group conducted a study that linked hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 adults aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing exam and also evaluating them for symptoms of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of dealing with significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a range of variables. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s about the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is striking is how small a difference can so significantly raise the probability of suffering from depression. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss gets worse is demonstrated by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, expanding a sizable body of literature connecting the two. In another study, a significantly higher risk 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 believe that it’s a biological or chemical relationship that exists between hearing loss and depression. It’s probably social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even everyday conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of anxiety and depression. It’s a terrible cycle, but it’s also one that’s easily broken.
Treating hearing loss, in most cases with hearing aids, according to several studies, will lessen symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from over 1,000 individuals in their 70s discovered that those who used hearing aids were significantly less likely to experience symptoms of depression, though the authors did not determine a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t viewing the data over time.
But other research, which followed subjects before and after using hearing aids, reinforces the theory that treating hearing loss can help reduce symptoms of depression. Only 34 individuals were evaluated in a 2011 study, but all of them showed substantial improvements in symptoms of depressions and also cognitive function after wearing hearing aids for 3 months. Another small-scale study from 2012 found the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after beginning to use hearing aids. And even a full year after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still experiencing relief from depression symptoms.
It’s difficult dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing tested, and know about your options. Your hearing will be improved and so will your general quality of life.