Are you aware that around one out of three adults between the ages of 65 and 74 is affected by hearing loss and half of them 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 might not get treatment for hearing loss, particularly as they get older. One study found that only 28% of individuals who reported suffering from hearing loss had even gotten their hearing tested, never mind sought further treatment. For some folks, it’s like gray hair or wrinkles, just a part of growing old. Hearing loss has always been easy to diagnose, but thanks to the substantial developments that have been made in hearing aid technology, it’s also a very manageable condition. That’s relevant because an increasing body of research shows that managing hearing loss can improve more than just your hearing.
A Columbia University research group carried out a study that connected hearing loss to depression. They compiled data from over 5,000 people aged 50 and older, giving each subject an audiometric hearing test and also assessing them for signs of depression. For every 20 decibels of increased hearing loss, the chances of having significant depression rose by 45% according to these researchers after they adjusted for a host of variables. And for the record, 20 dB is very little noise, it’s lower than a whisper, roughly equal to the sound of rustling leaves.
It’s surprising that such a small difference in hearing creates such a significant increase in the likelihood of developing depression, but the basic relationship isn’t a shock. The fact that mental health gets worse as hearing loss worsens is revealed by this research and a multi-year investigation from 2000, adding to a considerable body of literature connecting the two. In another study, a significantly higher danger of depression was reported in people who both self reported hearing loss and people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing test.
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 who have hearing loss will frequently avoid social situations due to anxiety and will even often feel anxious about typical everyday situations. This can increase social isolation, which further feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Several studies have found that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to decrease symptoms of depression. A 2014 study that looked at data from more than 1,000 individuals in their 70s found that those who used hearing aids were considerably less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression, though the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they were not viewing the data over time.
But the hypothesis that treating hearing loss relieves depression is reinforced by a more recent study that followed subjects before and after wearing hearing aids. 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 significant improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single person in the group continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And in a study from 1992 that observed a bigger group of U.S. military veterans suffering from hearing loss, revealed that a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, the vets were still experiencing reduced symptoms of depression.
It’s difficult dealing with hearing loss but help is out there. Get your hearing examined, and learn about your solutions. Your hearing will be enhanced and so will your general quality of life.