Are you aware that around one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 is impacted by hearing impairment and half of them are older than 75? But even though so many people are affected by hearing loss, 70% of them have never used hearing aids and for people under the age of 69, that number drops to 16%. 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 number of reasons why people might not get treatment for hearing loss, especially as they grow older. 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 normal part of the process of aging. Treating hearing loss has always been a bigger problem than diagnosing it, but with improvements in modern hearing aid technology, that’s not the situation now. This is significant because your ability to hear is not the only health risk linked to hearing loss.
A Columbia University research group performed a study that linked 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 evaluating them for symptoms of depression. After adjusting for a range of variables, the researchers found that the odds of suffering with clinically significant symptoms of depression increased by about 45% for every 20-decibel increase in hearing loss. And 20 decibels isn’t very loud, it’s around the volume of rustling leaves, for the record.
The basic connection between hearing loss and depression isn’t that surprising, but what is shocking is how small a difference can so significantly increase the likelihood of suffering from depression. This new study expands the substantial existing literature associating hearing loss and depression, like this multi-year analysis from 2000, which revealed 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 people whose hearing loss was diagnosed from a hearing exam.
Here’s the good news: The relationship that researchers surmise exists between hearing loss and depression isn’t biological or chemical. More than likely, it’s social. Difficulty hearing can cause feelings of stress and anxiety and lead sufferers to avoid social situations or even day to day conversations. The social separation that results, feeds into feelings of depression and anxiety. But this vicious cycle can be broken rather easily.
Numerous studies have found that treating hearing loss, usually with hearing aids, can help to alleviate 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, although the authors did not define a cause-and-effect relationship since they weren’t looking at 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 getting hearing aids. A 2011 study only observed a small group of people, 34 subjects altogether, the researchers discovered that after three months with hearing aids, every one of them showed substantial improvement in both depressive symptoms and cognitive functioning. Another small-scale study from 2012 revealed the same results even further out, with every single individual in the sample continuing to notice less depression six months after starting to wear hearing aids. And even a full 12 months after starting to use hearing aids, a group of veterans in a 1992 study were still noticing relief from symptoms of depression.
It’s tough coping with hearing loss but help is out there. Find out what your solutions are by getting a hearing test. It could help improve more than your hearing, it might positively affect your quality of life in ways you hadn’t even imagined.